How to choose the right international school in Shanghai

Shanghai Living

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Moving to a new country is hard enough, and moving to Shanghai – where ‘bustle’ takes on new connotations – can be downright daunting. Finding the right school for your children is always a challenge that expat parents face.

Shanghai has no shortage of international schools – but that makes your choices even harder. Some of the most important elements are: location, size, curriculum, Chinese language program, extracurricular activities, and most importantly, the right fit for the child. Here are some of the key points to look for when understanding the differences between the many, varied international school programs.


Spending a lot of time on the bus or in the car to the school is no fun for the kids or the parents. Try to look for a school that is either close to the office or close to your new home. Many of the larger schools in Shanghai have schools in both Puxi and Pudong areas. Programs or age levels may vary per campus.

Student-Teacher Ratio

Smaller classrooms obviously allow for more student-teacher interaction. On the other hand, there should be enough students in the class so that the child has plenty of opportunity for interaction with other children. Wayne Richardson, co-principal of Puxi campus for YCIS Shanghai said, “We try to find the right balance of teachers and students, so that everyone is engaged and participating.”


Curriculums vary between schools in Shanghai. For example, the German and French schools use a more national-based curriculum from their home country, with many other schools using an English or US-based curriculum with an international outlook. An example of this would be the popular Cambridge IGCSE Programme for 14-16 year-olds and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), which is a rigorous pre-university course of study for students aged 16- 19. The IB Programme suits many expatriate families because of its international outlook and allows for more flexibility in university choice as the diploma is widely accepted in most countries.

For younger students, it is important to consider the school approach and philosophy towards Early Childhood and Primary School Education. Also, some programs may offer half-day or partial-week day programs for pre-schoolers.

Chinese language program

Coming all the way to China, it is a perfect opportunity to at least have some exposure to Chinese language and culture. Most schools offer a Chinese Language program, while some schools also offer Chinese as a medium of instruction. For instance, YCIS Shanghai utilizes a unique co-teaching method by using one Western and one Chinese teacher in each class, which enables students to immerse themselves into a bilingual environment and ultimately improving their Chinese language acquisition. Even for short-stay students, exposure to Chinese will help them make friends and adapt to the local environment.

Extracurricular activities

Music, art, sports, dance, theater, newspaper…the list of possible extracurricular activities is endless. Have a good look at what each school offers and how involved the students are in activities. Check with the employee if the children have any special hobbies or interests.

And most importantly… help find a school you – and more importantly – your child loves!

Tips for parents

  • Be sure to talk with teachers and administrators. Ask plenty of questions about class size and curriculum details.
  • What types of activities does the school offer? Ask for a list of active clubs, sports, music and art groups.
  • What is the feeling like at the school? Sit in on a class if you can.
  • Consider the program and applicability when you leave the country.
  • Consistency: find out how long the program has been established and how long the teachers and administrators have been there.

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