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Differences Between Public and International Schools in China

Differences Between Public and International Schools in China | ITTT | TEFL Blog

As an English teacher who has experienced both education systems in China, I feel uniquely qualified to answer this question. Based on my experiences, there are several major differences between public school and international school.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Di W.

1. Curriculum

An international school provides a curriculum that is not the national curriculum of China. Instead, it may offer an international curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (within which there is the Primary Years Program - PYP, the Middle Years Program - MYP, and the IB Diploma Program - IBDP). IB is a transdisciplinary curriculum, there are six transdisciplinary themes for all the subjects. It means in each unit different subject teachers will teach the same theme at the same time. The aim of all IB programs is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. Most of the students in international schools have foreign passports, these students are willing to attend overseas universities.

On the other hand, the public school provides the national curriculum in China. The curriculum includes language and literature, English, math, science, art, music, Physical Education and Health. These subjects are separate, there are limited connections among them.

The main goal of public schools is to prepare their students for higher education. 12 years of study is all for one big exam called Gaokao, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, which is the basis for recruiting students for institutions of higher education.

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2. Ways to teach English

In the international schools it is called inquiry-based learning, this means that the students use English as the language of learning and living. The teachers need to engage all children fully speak English all the time not only in the classroom but also on the playground. This is an excellent language environment for students to speak and use English.

The different situation in public school is students will only practice English in English class. All other lessons and coursework are in Chinese. On the other hand, the Mandarin level of students in public school is much higher than in international school.

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3. Faculty and Professional Development

There are over 300,000 staff teaching overseas in international schools today. They come from many countries, particularly the UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and the US. This makes international schools a melting pot of nationalities, with many opportunities for the staff to share techniques in pedagogy.

External professional development opportunities for international school teachers can be quite limited or highly expensive because international schools are spread far and wide, with some schools are very isolated. Much professional development occurs internally, either by a visiting trainer or led by one of the staff members. The international diversity of the staff means that best practice from many different countries can be shared and incorporated.

Most staff in public school are local Chinese people. In a public school normally there is a staff meeting once a week, they need to learn some methodology document from the Education Bureau. They need to follow the teaching outline of the government. The Education Bureau provides several important training courses every term, and it’s all for free.

4. Class sizes

International schools generally keep class sizes small; typically no more than 20 students. Every student can get a chance to talk and express themselves in one class. It’s a student-basic class. For the public school students, there are at least 40 students in one class, the teacher may talk more than students, it’s more like a teacher-basic class.

5. After school activities

There are many clubs for students to sign up in international schools, such as beginner band, drawing club, cooking club, soccer team, basketball team. Normally the activities will take about one hour, and some of the coaches are employed from outside of the school.

Public school also have many different activities, but the activities are more academic, such as reading club, handwriting exercise, English drama club.

6. Tuition fee

China charges the world’s most expensive international school tuition fees, it's about 36,400USD a year.

Public schools are free in China, China has a nine-year compulsory education.

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Are you ready to teach English in China?

It is clear that these different approaches to education have their advantages and disadvantages. The international schools aim to develop international open-minded people, the advantages of attending international schools are good English-speaking atmosphere, the smaller size of the classroom, and more interesting activities. But the disadvantages are also quite obvious,the Mandarin level of the students is lower than public students, the classroom discipline is not as good as public school and the tuition fee is far more expensive for normal families.

In China, 90% of students are in public schools, it’s free for local Chinese students, the government supports a large number of funds on the public schools, and it provides free training courses for the teachers.

On the whole, the concept of globalizing and diversifying education of the globe has been pushing forward the Chinese education system.

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