Boom time for international schools

High school student Luna Guan, 15, had wanted to go to a boarding school in Britain this autumn.

But while she had passed the entrance exam in June, she did not manage to get the paperwork to go abroad sorted out in time.

However, her father was not about to give up on giving her a foreign education, albeit within China. He found Malvern College Qingdao, in eastern Shandong province, a new kind of international school catering to Chinese students.

According to the institute's website, the four-year-old school is "thought to be the first purpose-built international secondary school for Chinese nationals that is backed by a leading independent UK school and licensed by the Chinese authorities".

In China, local students are not allowed to study at foreign-owned international schools, which are strictly for expatriate children.

This has given rise to new types of international schools such Sino-foreign cooperative schools and Chinese-owned, private bilingual schools. Chinese students can also study at international classes within some local public schools.

There are also private schools like Malvern College Qingdao that provide education at senior high school level and are not restricted by any government requirements, said the London-based International School Consultancy (ISC).

There is "an insatiable demand" for English-medium education in China, said ISC. And many families are now able to afford the high fees of private schools offering such an education.

As of this year, the ISC counted 550 international schools in China, out of which 440 are accessible to the locals. More than 150,000 Chinese students, like Luna, are studying in these schools. The consultancy predicts that the number of bilingual private schools will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Luna told The Straits Times that she enjoyed having all her lessons conducted in English.

Her mother Zhang Dan, 44, said that Luna's tuition, room and board cost about 180,000 yuan (S$37,000) a year. These would have cost a mere 2,000 yuan at the public high school.

"Our friends and relatives are surprised that we sent her to an international school, as we are just an average-income family," said Ms Zhang, an administrative assistant.

"But since she really wants to get out of the Chinese education system, I don't really have a choice," she added.

Chong Koh Ping

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Boom time for international schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe