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Living in Beijing Guide

Tips for choosing a school

Parents who have been through the process before say that finding the right school for your child starts with asking the right questions. In Beijing, expat families have a variety of schools to choose from. The choices range from prestigious international schools, to international divisions within local schools, to local schools themselves. And no two schools are the same, including the ones with multiple campuses. Institutions can vary in terms of curriculum, facilities, size, cost, location, activities, philosophy and sometimes even in teacher experience.

Before you pick up a single brochure, contact an admissions officer or set foot on a campus, prepare to get answers to these three key questions: 1)What is the student to teacher ratio, and what certifications do teachers have? 2) How will this school prepare my child for university? and 3) Does this school provide an environment that my child will thrive in?

1) What is the student to teacher ratio, and what certifications do teachers have?

Research throughout the world has consistently indicated that good teachers are the key element of children’s developmental and academic success. Furthermore, quality teachers are able to thrive when the student to teacher ratio is low. Smaller class sizes permit teachers to attend to the needs of each individual student and be innovative in presenting course material and facilitating learning. Be sure to ask admissions officers about teachers’ qualifications and class sizes. Follow up by visiting a few classrooms to get a feel for the environment.

2) How will this school prepare my child for university?

If your child is in secondary school, then knowing which country your child wants to head to after graduation will help determine which curriculum is best suited for them. Of course, American universities are familiar with the British curriculum and vice versa. The A Level and IB programmes are recognised worldwide. Students who plan to study in the UK or Asia (other than mainland China) are best served by preparing for and taking IGCSE exams in Year 11 and following on with A Levels. Likewise, though Canadian and Australian students have a bit more flexibility, most parents prefer to educate their children in the British curriculum.

3) Does this school provide an environment that my child will thrive in?

Ultimately, selecting a school comes down to personal taste. It’s tempting to try to generalise, but the fact is a large student body does not automatically mean a school is impersonal. Likewise, a small student body does not automatically mean a school lacks in course or activity options. If you can, visit the school and get a sense of the atmosphere. Read school marketing materials critically to determine their emphasis. Most importantly, talk to other parents. Ask what they like about the school and what they would change. Make the most of your school visit by paying attention to the tone of classrooms as well as general areas, noting interactions between students and teachers and among students themselves.

Here are some additional questions that parents report are helpful when gauging a school:

Universities and higher education

Beijing is home to dozens of universities offering every imaginable program, and expats increasingly take advantage of the affordable tuition and transferable credits made possible by affiliations with foreign universities in Europe, Australia and North America. Most of the universities are located in Wudaokou, a pleasant student area in Haidian District. Peking and Tsinghua are two of China’s most prestigious and competitive universities. Peking University (www.pku.edu.cn) has excellent facilities and offers a wide range of disciplines. Touting itself as the Harvard of China, it draws the second largest number of expat students in China. Tsinghua is renowned for its engineering programmes (only offered in Chinese at undergraduate level), however its Chinese-language programmes are popular with expats and it offers nice facilities.

For locals, the university admissions process is extremely stressful and based solely on nationwide examination results. Foreigners, however, are exempt from these exams. All one has to do to enroll in a Chinese university is fill out a simple application form, submit school records and other documentation, have a physical examination and show proof of language proficiency. The majority of expat students choose to leave China to study in the US or Europe, but more and more are choosing to study in a Chinese university for a year or more before transferring. Many international universities have satellite campuses in the Beijing area, particularly with Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) programmes. The University of Maryland and Rutgers Business School have top-notch programmes in central Beijing.

Language courses

Whether your life or work requires you to interact with non-Englishspeaking Chinese people or not, learning some Mandarin can make living in Beijing an easier, more enjoyable experience. Although English is commonly spoken in the city centre and in the proximity of expat communities, exploring many parts of the city, shopping and communicating with taxi drivers require at least basic knowledge of Mandarin. If you are keen to learn there are two options. One is to enroll at a university, where the larger and cheaper classes generally focus on reading and writing Chinese characters. The other is to take classes at one of the many language schools, which offer full-time and part-time courses. Classes tend to be smaller and most schools also offer private tutors. Though they are more expensive, language schools tend to be more flexible when it comes to students’ language levels and schedules. Another difference is that language schools often avoid Chinese characters in the introductory levels, choosing instead to teach oral Mandarin using the Pinyin system (Chinese written in the Roman alphabet). Oral learning is easier and faster. Therefore, for those in need of some survival Chinese, this is probably the best option.

The British School of Beijing 北京英国学校 South Side, 9 Anhua Street, Shunyi District 顺义区安华街9号南院
5 Xiliujie, Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District 朝阳区三里屯路西六街5号

The British School of Beijing offers the British National Curriculum and the A Level programme in years 12 and 13. It is the only school in which teacher recruitment (90% of the teaching staff is brought from the UK), curriculum planning, program development and parent relations are all managed by veteran British administrators. This difference is immediately obvious to parents.

The British School of Beijing allows students to follow the same academic programme as their counterparts in the UK, and newer students report a smooth transition. This is an easy choice for British parents. Canadian and Australian parents are attracted to the parity in curricula, while many Asian parents appreciate the system of academic accountability and overall rigour of the British system, evidenced by the school’s excellent IGCSE results.

For the 2007-2008 academic year, approximately 45% of Year 10 and 11 students were awarded A grades. This is exceptional considering that English is the second language of many students. All students in Years 12 and 13 participate in the A Level programme Besides The British School of Beijing’s commitment to academic excellence, the school is remarkably student-centred. State-of-the-art facilities on each of The British School of Beijing’s campuses offer competitive sports, fine arts and a variety of extracurricular activities, which are designed according to the demands of the student body. Admission to either of the two British Schools in Shunyi or Saniltun is non-selective for native English speakers and despite maintaining a low student-to-teacher ratio, waiting lists are not a problem. For more information, visit www.britishschool.org.cn.

Other international schools in Beijing International School Beijing 北京国际学校

10 Anhua Jie (near Yosemite), Shunyi District 顺义区安华街9号(优山美地旁)

Western Academy Beijing 北京京西学校

10 Laiguangying Dong Lu, Shunyi District 顺义区来广营东路10号

Harrow International School 哈罗国际学校

No. 5, 4th Block, Anzhenxili, Chaoyang District 朝阳区安贞西里4区5号

Yew Chung International School 耀中国际学校

Honglingjin Park, 5 Houbalizhuang, Chaoyang District 朝阳区后八里庄5号红领巾公园东

Canadian International School 加拿大国际学校

38 Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District 朝阳区亮马桥路38号

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