Enrolling at a Chinese-run international school in Beijing is an attractive and increasingly popular option in Beijing for many Chinese families. After all, such schools promise to ready students for the rigors of a Western university, and their foreign teaching staff give them an auspicious air.
But some students who have moved on to American universities are coming forward to say they feel ill-prepared. A recent Global Times article quoted Samantha Liu, a 2014 graduate of a Chinese-run international school in Shunyi, who went on to Indiana’s Purdue University before realizing that she was not ready to handle the experience.
She told the Times: “My university history professor gave us a reading list of 30 books for the past semester. At the school I attended in Beijing, nobody required us to read a single book … I only managed to finish five of the books from the [university course]reading list, and I did miserably in the exams.”
The article added that Liu’s family shelled out $80,000 for three years at the Chinese-run international school. She is now ranked third lowest in her class at Purdue, and is worried that she may not be able to continue her studies with such dismal grades.
The Times article went on to quote Zhang Fan, a manager at Beijing New Oriental School (which tutors pupils studying for the SATs, TOEFL, and other foreign exams). Zhang said Chinese-run international schools fail their students because they offer international curricula without lessons that teach them the well-rounded knowledge and skills they require in a post-secondary environment.
He added: "Most Chinese-run international schools offer only five main subjects, because it gives them the best chance of improving their students’ grades so they can get into a good university abroad…[Most of them] remain beholden to the exam-oriented culture of Chinese education."
The issue may be rooted in the schools’ rush to meet a clamoring demand for international education. According to a 2013 Professionals in International Education News article, Chinese students are mostly barred from attending the country’s 355 foreign-owned international schools, leaving a major gap for the nation’s fledging middle class.
The article added that more and more Chinese-owned schools are hoping to fill that role by offering international curricula. It quoted Nicholas Brummitt, Chairman of ISC Research (an institute that is studying these schools), as saying: “These Chinese international schools will be aiming to meet the huge demand for an English language education from the burgeoning Chinese middle class who want to see their children receive the best possible education in order to gain access to the top universities worldwide… This looks likely to be the future for many Chinese children.”
While the PIE News article was mostly brimming with optimism about these high schools, a commentator posted a few concerns that might give Chinese families pause:
“I would like to know how many of these schools are accredited, who are the respected accrediting bodies,” the person posted at the end of the PIE News article. “I think the Chinese students deserve some kind of protection against programs that spring up over night. Overall it is great to see the continuing internationalization of the younger generation.”