Finding the right school is often the top priority for families living in or relocating to Beijing. But education in the capital comes at a cost.
Many larger companies offer full school funding for employees’ children as part of their relocation packages, meaning that money is no barrier to the top international schools. But not all are so fortunate. Some may choose to simply pay the fees out-of-pocket, while others look to local schools, homeschooling, and different sources of financial assistance to mitigate the cost of education. We spoke with four families about their solutions to the school funding conundrum.
Homeschooling: The Ambrose Family
Art lessons- RMB 3, 000
Sports programs- RMB 4, 000
Chinese lessons- RMB 3, 000
Events at The Bookworm- RMB 1, 500
Books (first two semesters)- RMB 7, 300
Total: RMB 18,800 (excluding cost of miscellaneous equipment and Jennifer’s time)
Jennifer Ambrose relocated to China from the US in 2006. A columnist for beijingkids, she has two children with her husband Randy: 10-year-old Myles and 5-year-old Brigid. She homeschools both of her children at the family home in Changping outside North Sixth Ring Road.
Why did you decide to homeschool your children?
I was always curious about homeschooling, mostly because I have quite a few friends that homeschooled in the US. I didn’t think we would actually do it ourselves but my husband’s compensation package [did not]include school tuition. That’s when I stopped just toying with the idea and [started]considering it more seriously.
There’s often a feeling of being on a learning adventure together. Sometimes, all it takes is the three of us gathered around a book, learning some weird and wonderful fact about dinosaurs, or one of the kids to ask a simple question, and we all fall into the rabbit hole as we pursue the answer.
Was the cost of the alternatives a factor in your decision?
Cost was definitely a factor, but also the flexibility of schedule. Currently, my husband’s job requires him to visit other cities in China [as well as]the US and Europe. Since we aren’t tied to a school calendar of testing and holidays, the kids and I often travel with him. It’s an opportunity we have to take advantage of while we can.
Were the costs as expected and do you have any financial tips for families considering homeschooling?
I was prepared for the books and supplies cost but families that aren’t able to make trips to their home countries to bring back books may need to consider the cost of shipping. For [anyone]wary of the expense of outside teachers, it is possible to work out arrangements with other parents to exchange talents. Right now I do this with a Chinese family in Changping. I tutor their son in English, and his mom spends that time playing with Brigid in Chinese.
How else do you share resources with other parents in the same situation?
Art is a subject that I have no idea how to teach or even guide. We’ve been lucky to be able to join up with other homeschooling families to share art teachers and we rely on Sports Beijing for our physical education. Myles plays baseball and Brigid plays soccer right now. The kids have their [training]and matches on the weekends, so during the week the kids are motivated to practice on their own at the park.
Additional Fees Explained (Well, Sort Of)
When choosing a school and planning for the academic years ahead, it is important to take into account all of the various fees that you may encounter. Schools may be relatively upfront about their fees, but there are often a number of hidden (or at least not well-publicized) charges. Here are some of the most common ones to keep in mind.
- Lunch fees. These can vary from RMB 15-50 per day and may be paid for monthly, yearly, or through a top-up card system.
- Bus/transportation fee. Anywhere from RMB 3,000-13,000 per year depending on the school and the distance required. Some schools charge this monthly.
- Application/new student fee. Normally between RMB 1,000 and 2,000 for international schools.
- Deposit. Can be as high as RMB 20,000 and some schools require the same amount again at the beginning of each year.
- Uniform fee. Can vary from approximately RMB 500 to 3,000 per year. Students can usually re-use them from year to year as long as they still fit and are in good condition.
- Donation fee (zanzhu fei). A phenomenon found in local schools where access to the most popular institutions is secured with a “donation.” Reportedly as high as RMB 30,000.
- Zafei. To complicate matters further, many of the above charges are rolled into the all-encompassing zafei (“miscellaneous fees”), especially at local schools. This ambiguous term seems to differ in definition (and price) between every school that charges it and may, or may not, include electricity/water fees (shuidian fei, 彊든롤) and textbook fees (shufei, 蝎롤)
- Capital levy fee. In the context of international schools, this fee normally applies to money used towards buildings, facilities, and facilities. Schools differ in their definitions, though it is usually in the region of RMB 10,000-20,000 a year.
When beijingkids spoke to Ma Fei, a lawyer specializing in education, he had a very different definition of the capital levy fee, describing it as an optional fee for primary or middle school students either (a) choosing a school in a different district than where they live or (b) who do not have high enough grades.
The moral of the story is this: Ask the schools you’re interested in to provide a full list of fees. We try to ensure that the schools featured in the listings pages of this guide provide a comprehensive overview of their charges, but there are not always set definitions of what many of the fees really cover. Each school configures their fees differently, so we advise you to be thorough in your research and assertive in trying to figure out just what you need to pay – and what you don’t.
Find the downloadable 2014-2015 School Choice Guide here.
Photo by Mitchell Pe Masilun