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Schooling for children in Harbin (and China in general)


js6426

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Hi there,

 

Can anyone help me with information on what sort of schooling is available for foreign children in China?  I have two sons, one will be three in November.  Are there nurseries/preschools that foreign children can attend?  What about primary schools?  At what age do Chinese children start attending school?  Judging by the intelligence of the Chinese, their education system must be fairly decent, and I am therefore not worried about putting my kids into an international school (nor do I think my wallet could take it), but I am very unsure when it comes to whether or not my children would be able to study at a Chinese school, and what kind of cost that would incur. 

 

This is even more specific, but we plan on being in Harbin for at least 3 years, and so if anyone has any experience with schooling in Harbin rather than just China in general, that would be hugely appreciated. 

 

Thank you in advance for any help anyone can give me.  I know I might be able to get a fair amount of this information on Google, but I find it is always better to hear from the experiences of real people who are unbiased!

 

Jonny

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ZhangKaiRong

Judging by the intelligence of the Chinese, their education system must be fairly decent

Well, actually, it's not. The main philosophy behind education can be traced back to Confucius, and it hasn't really changed over the years. Elementary school, junior high and high school are basically about cramming the course materials via repetitively solving the textbook tasks over and over. The system is based on the "learn by heart" method, therefore it focuses on memorizing things, compared to problem solving and cognitive skills. It's not just a Chinese problem, the Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese education system is the same as the Chinese one on their broad methods applied.

I think kindergarten/pre-school is OK for foreign kids, because it's a more child-friendly environment. Starting elementary school, on the other hand, is terrible, as it means too many lessons and homework and constant stress for the kids. When I was in China, I visited the family of my friend. The smallest daughter was in her first year of elementary school, and she usually fell asleep at half past eleven every day because she needed to complete her homeworks.

I would definitely consider international schools if I were you, however, those are expensive, but from your children's perspective it would be much better.

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http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/19252-what-is-high-school-like-in-china/

 

^This thread is about high school. Note that kdavid's post (#3) is specifically about Harbin. 

 

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/49370-bbc-show-are-british-kids-tough-enough-to-handle-chinese-school/

 

^This thread also gets into the relative merits of Chinese versus a "western" school system.

 

As ZhangKaiRong has pointed out, the Chinese school system is far from what it's cracked up to be. From what I've read they do a hell of a good job in some ways, but are quite poor in others; education quality varies wildly throughout the country. It may not be relevant as I assume you're planning on sticking to the coasts/developed areas, but China is a bit like two countries in one right now. You have "first world" areas and "third world" areas (had to use those terms for appropriate emphasis, note the quotes). From what I hear Harbin is towards the first world end so you should be fine, just make sure to check your choice of school with someone on the ground too, I suppose.

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Does anyone have anything a bit more specific to putting foreign children into Chinese schools?  The aforementioned threads are great, but I am still looking for some answers to some of my original questions.  I don't know if I will be in China when my kids get to high school level.

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Flickserve

Primary school starts at 6 years old in China.

What you want for your child depends on your values and to be honest, a pragmatic and flexible approach.

Some people are vehemently against Chinese schools citing the homework pressure.

Some people see it as an opportunity for the child to really learn another language.

Me, I would choose the Chinese system and see how my child copes. What do they learn? Another language and a different writing system, a way of discipline and work habits. Then later, after a few years, I would take them out into a more 'westernised' style of education.

It's difficult to take them out of a western style education into a Chinese style education. The other way round would be easier.

There is a well known non-Chinese TV personality who moved to China at the age of six or seven. Her parents put her through Chinese school. She eventually went to college in the US.

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I don't know, it seems like putting a foreign kid in Chinese school is almost child abuse.  The students come home loaded with stacks of A3 sheets folded in half.  They spend hours doing this homework, and most of it is mindless busywork.  It never stops, the kids go to extra school outside of normal class hours as well.  They have zero free time and drop into bed exhausted every day.  

 

But they have to study like this, because China has too many people and getting into a good university is the most important thing in the world.  Employers judge you and pay you based on what university you graduated from.  They'll even put it into their advertising ("We have two Beida graduates working for us and 15 other first-rank university graduates").  As foreign children won't be taking the Gaokao test that sorts them into colleges, the whole lifetime of studying furiously is pointless.  

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Thanks again guys.  So it would seem to me that there are no issues putting foreign children into schools in China (in the sense that they are allowed to attend), it basically boils down to how you feel about it.  Everyone seems to be mentioning the crazy workload and extra classes - are the extra classes in optional?  I have friends in Taiwan and there are cram schools in the evenings, and while most Taiwanese seem to attend, they are totally optional. 

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Just because they are allowed to attend, it does not mean they should attend. 

 

From what I have seen, there is a lot of competition and ranking, some children go to school abroad. I am not sure if it is better to send your kid to a good Mandarin language school or a good English language school, but the name of the school is important. 

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Don't forget parenting. Even those Chinese children who go to expensive private schools (no matter where located) instead of the Chinese public school system, their parents seem to opt for extra classes. 

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are the extra classes in optional? I have friends in Taiwan and there are cram schools in the evenings, and while most Taiwanese seem to attend, they are totally optional.
The extra classes are not mandated or enforced, but from my understanding, they are basically mandatory if you want your child to succeed in the very competitive school system. If all the other kids in a class go to cram school, your kid will quickly start to lag behind. Teacher will scold the kid for being stupid, will focus on the other kids who do understand the material, kid will lag further and further behind, will be unhappy at school, will be bullied, etc etc. It's a horrible system in that respect.

 

And it starts early. Some people get private teachers for their kids when they're as young as 2 or 3, to give the kids an edge when they first go to school. Add to this that your children, while speaking the best English of the whole class, won't speak Chinese, or not very well, and they'll be far behind from the very first day. Yes, children pick up a language faster than adults, but I don't know if this is something you should attempt, especially if it's a school with little or no experience teaching Chinese to foreign children (likely, since Harbin doesn't have much of a foreign population, especially in the has-children age group).

 

I would strongly advise against sending your children to a Chinese school, unless it's a school experienced in teaching foreign kids and of which you heard good things from other parents. If it's Chinese you want, perhaps get a Chinese ayi to take care of your children when you're at work. That should get them conversational without the potential psychological damage.

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As foreigners, you can likely avoid a lot of the social pressure that results in attending extra classes. Part of it is, as above, down to the massive competition students face from their peers for University places. The better your exam scores, the better your future.

Then there is also just the comparing that goes on between parents. For example, one child from a group might start having piano lessons with a foreign teacher so then others also start to find foreign teachers too. Someone starts to having swimming lessons so then others feel they must too. Someone has English lessons or extra math lessons but then other parents don't want their child left behind so they sign up as well. It goes on and on.

You could likely just pick extra classes that might be useful or fun.

As for workload, I think all students in China have quite a lot of homework compared to other countries. One of my old primary level students left to spend a year in the UK, when she came back we were looking at how to use "used to". She made the sentence "In England I used to play with friends but now I do homework". That always stuck with me.

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Thanks again guys.  If the classes are optional I don't think i'd be keen on sending my kids to them (unless they wanted to go of course).  My children are already starting to speak Chinese as my wife is fluent and speaks to them in Mandarin, so I am not concerned about them lagging behind on the language side of things.  Looks like we have 3 years to figure things out anyway, I don't know if we'll even be in Harbin at that point.  Hopefully we will have a good experience with preschool and then we can make further decisions closer to the time.  Maybe the whole Chinese education system will have completely changed within 3 years anyway...hah

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If the classes are optional I don't think i'd be keen on sending my kids to them (unless they wanted to go of course)

 

 

I don't think Chinese schools are the right choice for you. Not only because of "the whole Chinese education system", but also because of Chinese culture in general. Education starts at home. Things might change, see how it develops in the future. 

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Thank you for your advice Angelina, my family will take it into consideration, along with the advice/help that everyone else has given.  We have a lot to think about and discuss over the coming years!  I think actually being in China for a few years before our kids need to start school will help give us more insight as well.

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Flickserve

I really don't understand why people think that if a kid goes into a Chinese elementary school, that you have to follow the after school classes.

It takes a step back to look at the wider perspective. Do you want to send your kid all the. way through to Chinese secondary school? If yes, then you probably do have to do the whole competitive thing. But I don't see the OP saying this is his intention.

If the OP is staying in Harbin for only three years, then if you choose Chinese elementary school, does that mean you must choose the after school classes? Of course not! Do the results at a Chinese Elementary school after two or three years really matter when transferring to an international school (or back in US or UK or wherever)? I honestly don't think so.

So then you have to think what can a Chinese school offer in other respects. Which is of course language, culture and a different set of social skills plus discipline.

Now, what can an international school offer. Let's say lots of play, learning through play, better English skills. I think a crucial point that people miss is, if a child goes to Chinese school for three years, and then transfer out, would they be significantly disadvantaged by the time they reach high school and beyond?? Of course, the answer is no.

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realmayo

Definitely, plus it's not like the western educational model has necessarily got all that much going for it these days. The main issue I can see, one mentioned earlier, is that a foreign child could be seen as dragging the rest of the class down (because of lack of language proficiency) and therefore be bullied or just ignored by the teacher, but I'm only guessing that might be an issue, and if so I've no idea at what age level. Best to ask parents who've done this, I'm not sure if that applies to anyone who has contributed to this discussion yet.

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it's not like the western educational model has necessarily got all that much going for it these days.
I can't speak for all of The West, but Dutch children are among the happiest in the world and doing pretty well on those comparative OESO lists, so in my country, the educational model has quite a lot going for it, actually. I'm sure you can find all kinds of flaws, and Finland supposedly has better teachers, etc etc, but that doesn't change the fact that it is in fact working really well.

 

One problem here of course is that education systems in 'the West' vary quite a lot, and different school systems work well for different children and teach them different useful things. But while you can have all kinds of reasons for sending your children to a Harbin elementary school, you really don't need to do it for the quality of the education.

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realmayo

In that case the OP should hope to find a Dutch school in Harbin, problem solved!

 

 

The Chinese methods are surely very similar to say Korean ones and Korea is always at the top of the OECD lists, those kind of things.

 

But while you can have all kinds of reasons for sending your children to a Harbin elementary school, you really don't need to do it for the quality of the education.

 

It was because the OP will be in Harbin.

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ZhangKaiRong

The Chinese methods are surely very similar to say Korean ones and Korea is always at the top of the OECD lists, those kind of things.

Yeah because they're good at taking tests. PISA and the other education assessment methods are not without flawd either.

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