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Expat families in Shanghai will have a range of schooling options available to them, but will rarely send their children to public schools and will usually enrol them at private international schools instead. That said, younger foreign children have increasingly been attending local kindergartens and public schools to learn the local language and better integrate into Chinese culture.
Attending a school where teaching is in a foreign language can become ostracising for older students, and most attend international schools where the language of instruction is that of their home country, but Mandarin language classes are still taught. Depending on the school, students may be able to continue the curriculum from their home country.
Public schools in Shanghai
Private schools in Shanghai
Shanghai’s private schools tend to either be based on the state model or integrate aspects of other curricula. While they predominantly teach in Chinese, some offer instruction in English, including the city’s Montessori and Waldorf schools, which offer alternative approaches to education.
Private schools in Shanghai attract students from diverse but generally wealthier backgrounds. Tuition tends to be more costly than that of public schools, but still lower than at international schools.
As expected, it can generally be assumed that the city’s private schools offer better facilities and a wider range of extra-curricular activities than state schools.
International schools in Shanghai
Most expats living in Shanghai prefer sending their children to international schools. These institutions are widely available and tend to be the obvious choice for those who want a smooth and quick transition.
Shanghai boasts one of the largest concentrations of international schools in China. Most schools either follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum or the curriculum taught in their respective home countries. The primary teaching language is usually English or the language of the school’s home country. Standard coursework often features local culture, and many schools teach Mandarin or Cantonese from a very young age.
The range of international schools in Shanghai is diverse and students of many different backgrounds attend them. Finding a place in a reputable international school is often difficult as waiting lists can be extensive.
International schools can also be expensive, and fees add considerably to the cost of living. Expats should try to negotiate a place at an appropriate school before arriving in Shanghai, or as soon as possible. This is because, even if an employer agrees to cover the hefty costs of international education, admissions can still be competitive. Interviews, placement tests and a general application are just a few basic admission requirements.
Homeschooling in Shanghai
Homeschooling is becoming more popular with locals and expats in China, especially in larger cities such as Shanghai. This might be a legitimate option for expats staying in Shanghai for the short term who are unable to afford private or international schools.
Unfortunately, homeschooling in China is essentially illegal and is largely practised based on a legal oversight despite the law explicitly stating that children have to attend a school for at least nine years. The government has become increasingly vocal about its disapproval of homeschooling in recent years and has released numerous statements to this effect. Homeschooled children in China have been prevented from writing the local school-leaving exams, which essentially means they are unable to apply for entry at a Chinese university.
Special-needs education in Shanghai
Expat parents of children with disabilities or learning difficulties may prefer the support available in international schools.
Despite some progress towards inclusive education and integrating special needs education in mainstream classrooms, support is often limited. It's best to review school websites and contact them directly to discuss the availability of required and relevant services.
While some schools offer a range of facilities, support classes, assistant teachers, counsellors and assistive devices, other schools may only provide support for select disabilities, and physical, psychological or behavioural disorders.
Tutors in Shanghai
Finding a tutor in Shanghai should not be too difficult for expat parents. Children who need extra help and guidance outside of the classroom, particularly around exam time, can be tutored through online platforms or in person.
Tutors can be found through online portals such as Preply and a range of tutoring companies, including Shanghai Expat Tutors. Networking with other parents and friends can also be helpful to decide on the best tutoring options. Adults who want to take extra classes and to learn Mandarin can use these platforms in the same way.