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Educating Foreign Children in Beijing

The educational choices available to parents of foreign children in Beijing are many and varied, and range from bilingual kindergartens to university education. But can you afford it?

Lucky indeed are the parents who work for companies or embassies providing a salary-and-condition package that includes the education expenses of employee's children. If you are in this category, all you really have to do is choose a suitable school from the glossy brochures published by the handful of international schools, organize your driver to deliver your offspring there and back each day, and make sure your Ayi has prepared some delicious after-school snacks! Teachers employed by international schools, if hired from their home country, are also often given free tuition for up to two of their children at that school.

The next group of foreign parents includes those working for companies that, while they may not actually pay for the education of employee’s children, the salaries are high enough to afford your choice of school. Also, foreign teachers at Chinese schools are usually given free education for their children at the school where they work. This is fine for those fortunate enough to be employed at an education facility that caters for their child’s age group, and if the foreign student can cope with being in a Chinese learning environment.

But there are a growing number of foreign parents in Beijing who are on low wages, do not have their children's educational expenses covered by their employer and find the problem of educating their children almost unsolvable! This group includes teachers at schools that do not enroll students the same age as their offspring; foreign experts working for the Chinese Government, usually as English teachers or in the media, (earning an average of 4,000 yuan, or US$500, per month); local hire employees of international schools and other non-governmental companies; and those who have a Chinese spouse but their children do not speak, read or write Chinese well enough to attend a local government-run school, even if they could find one that was allowed to accept the child as a student.

What Costs Are We Actually Looking At?

As well as annual school fees of up to US$17,000 per student, most schools charge a registration fee from US$50 to US$500, and a large “entry donation,” “capital levy” or “building fund” payment is often required. And don’t forget, foreign parents may have two or three children!

Bilingual kindergartens cater for children from one to six years of age. For typical costing examples of international pre-school education, the Lido Kindergarten Beijing’s annual fees range from 45,000 to 87,000 yuan (US$5,600 to $11,000), depending on the age of the child. The Little Professor Bilingual Kindergarten charges up to 40,000 yuan (US$5,000) per year, which also includes food and bus transport.

The major English-language international schools in Beijing enroll students from four to 18 years of age, and their annual tuition fee per student averages 136,000 yuan (US$17,000). These schools include BISS (Beijing BISS International School), NSCL (New School of Collaborative Learning), BIS (Yew Chung Beijing International School), WAB (Western Academy of Beijing) and ISB (International School of Beijing), which moved to its new site at Shunyi in January 2002.

These schools all provide a wide range of sporting, cultural and social activities, plus classes taught in English by extremely well qualified and experienced professional native-English teachers, most of whom are from Australia, Britain, the United States, Canada and New Zealand. Subjects include history, information technology, Chinese and other languages, art, music, science and mathematics.

There are also smaller schools in Beijing, including those based at some embassies; schools catering for students who don’t have either English or Chinese as a first language, including French, German, Swedish, Arabic, Korean and Japanese schools; and private "home-schools." The International Study Group, which conducts classes in English, charges 64,000 yuan (US$8,000) per year. The Pakistan Embassy school also teaches in English and costs US$500 per month (approximately 40,000 yuan, or US$5,000, per year). The International Montessori School of Beijing, for students two to 10 years of age, charges an annual tuition fee of 136,000 yuan (US$14,000).

Most foreign parents also hire private tutors for their children, usually once or twice a week for one or two hours at a time, to teach music, Chinese language, and/or mathematics. This is an added cost to be built in to your education budget.

What Are Cheaper Schooling Alternatives?

The cheaper alternatives for foreign students are Fangcaodi Primary School, Beijing World Youth Academy and Beijing No. 55 Middle School, although teaching at these schools is done primarily in Chinese.

Fangcaodi International Primary School (FCD) is a Chinese government-run school. Its international section has over 400 foreign students, from five to 13 years of age, from 42 different countries and regions. All lessons, except English, are taught in Chinese. Students, who cannot speak, read or write Chinese undertake special intensive language classes in their first semester. School fees average 14,000 yuan per year (US$1,750). The 20,000 yuan entry fee can be waived for foreign experts.

Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA) is a middle (high) school for foreign students age 11 to 18, run by the Beijing Education Commission. Most of the 300 students are Korean. The school has good facilities, including a dormitory for boarding students, and an indoor pool and tennis courts on campus. All lessons are taught in Chinese, and an intensive language class is offered to non-Chinese-speaking students in their first semester. Other subjects offered include maths, science, computer technology, art, music, PE, history and English. Annual tuition fees are around 32,000 yuan (US$4,000). The 20,000 yuan donation fee can be waived in some circumstances.

Beijing No. 55 Middle School has an international student section and all subjects are taught in Chinese. Its Middle Years Program, for students in grades six to 10, costs 28,000 yuan (US$3,500) per year. The school’s local pre-university program, for students in years 11-12, follows the Chinese syllabus for liberal arts and science students, and is aimed at international students planning to enter Peking University and Tsinghua University.

Some schools, including BISS, No.55 and BWYA, also have an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program, taught in English, for senior students planning to attend international universities after graduation. BWYA’s annual fee for the IB program is 50,000 yuan (US$11,000).

What Choice Do Parents Really Have?

Basically, if you can’t afford the international school fees, plus the compulsory extras, forget about your child receiving an education in English! Some of the new Chinese private schools may be persuaded to accept your child if they can speak Chinese, especially if they also look Asian and will be able to fit in. School fees for these establishments are similar to those of FCD and BWYA. Also, if a foreign child is fluent in written and spoken Chinese and/or looks Asian, you may also be able to enroll them in a local school. It is difficult but, depending on your connections, it can be done!

The main criticism parents have of all schools for foreign children in Beijing is that their child is effectively isolated from local children. This is reflected both in the student’s ability to easily learn the Chinese language, and in the development of friendships among Chinese and foreign kids. The schools often have different sections for local and international students, and they do not even mix together in the playground.

So, if you and your English-speaking school-age children plan to be in Beijing for just a year or so, save up your money and enroll them in the school of your choice. If you are planning on a long-term stay, then carefully consider what you can afford, what type of education you want your children to have, what friends you want them to make and how well you want them to be able to communicate in written and spoken Chinese. Then join the growing circle of parents for whom this is a problem that, at times, seems almost unsolvable!

(Beijing Review by Yvonne Gluyas, Febrary 1, 2002)

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