Shanghai International Schools: Your Questions Answered

For many of us, Shanghai is our first experience of international schooling, so we’ve consulted widely, and come up with a list of FAQs – frequently asked questions and Shanghai International Schools Association member, and Director of the Western International School of Shanghai, Tom Kline, has provided the answers.

What’s the difference between an international school and a local school?

International Schools in China are for expatriates only, are usually private schools (and very expensive), and don’t follow the Chinese government curriculum. They are often smaller with many more teachers per student, have mostly foreign teachers, are conducted in English or another foreign language, and are able to provide more educational resources as they have more money to spend per student.

What does it mean when a school is a local school with an international stream? Is it the same as an international school?

If a local school has a license for an international division, then it can take expatriate children and usually offers many of the features of a full international school, though often it is much cheaper than a full international school.

Can any child go to an international school?

In China, only children with foreign passports, children from Hong Kong, or children from Taiwan can attend international school.

Are all international schools selective? What entrance exams are usually required?

All international schools are selective, but the admission criteria vary slightly, with only some schools requiring an exam. Most international schools require students with good academic records at previous institutions, good behavior records, and an ability to study in the language of the school. Some may also require additional admission tests to be taken and references from previous teachers.

Should families apply to more than one school?

This is really up to the individual family. Applications usually cost money, covering the administrative burden of dealing with applications, and is sometimes very steep. I would advise visiting a number of schools and applying to your favorites. Some schools have waiting lists for certain grades and deadlines during the year.

Why are the fees so high?

Small class sizes, large and attractive campuses, a large number of international staff (all of whom get housing, flights and other benefits as well as a Western salary, and often tax support), and lots of educational resources; all these add to the expense.

When my child finishes high school, will he/she have qualifications to get him/her into a Western college or university?

International schools provide internationally recognized programs which allow a student to access universities in a wide range of countries. Most international schools in Shanghai offer the IB Diploma, which is recognized in 76 countries.

At what age can children attend international school?

Usually children can enter many international schools at 3 years of age, though some schools have toddler programs which can take children even younger. Students generally study until they are 18 or sometimes 19.

Does my child have to study Chinese?

In most schools you don’t have to study Chinese, though studying a second language is usually part of the curriculum. Many international schools promote Chinese, but it is only compulsory in some schools.

Do students get to interact with kids from other schools through inter-school activities like sport, debating etc?

Yes, inter-school activities are very important and all international schools run such programs. This is often based on sport, but there are a huge number of other activities, such as environmental, academic, community, and service programs. Some schools also work with local schools to build stronger community relations.

How safe are school buses? Are they run by the city council or schools themselves?

School buses are very safe and usually leased by international schools from a licensed bus company. Some schools have their own buses. Buses usually have adult monitors on them to ensure students behave correctly, act safely, and wear their seatbelts.

From where do most international school students come?

The largest expatriate communities in Shanghai are from Japan and South Korea, but the nationalities in each school vary. The Japanese, German, French, and Korean schools have mostly citizens of their countries attending. In more nationally varied schools, you can have 30 or 40 different cultures represented. As most international schools use English as the language of instruction, the US, UK, Canada and Australia are well represented.

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