A Guide to Bilingual Schools in Shanghai

By Michaela Fulton 2018-12-20 23:26:08

Explore the option of a bilingual education for your child

Cost of bilingual schools in Shanghai

Curriculum and systems

The difference between bilingual and international schooling

The benefits of attending a bilingual school

What to look for when choosing a bilingual school

1. Does the school implement its own ethos?

2. Who is the school's target audience?

3. What is the ratio of Mandarin-English instruction?

Every school has its own personality and every child has unique needs and education goals. That’s why ensuring you know what’s being offered is important to find the best fit for your child(ren). Bilingual schools in Shanghai offer a fusion of Western and Chinese education, as well as a cheaper alternative to international schooling. These bilingual, or joint-venture, schools have come to be seen as integral to China’s education system by tapping into the resource of foreign schools and improving the competitiveness of Chinese ones. It’s important to note that they differ from an international school that only accepts non-Chinese passport holders, or a Chinese school that has an international division – both of which have been around for a number of years. ​

So, what are some of the main differences between bilingual and international schools? At a bilingual school:

  • children will be immersed in a dual language environment

  • bilingual schools offer a blended curriculum that combines core elements from Chinese and international programmes

  • lessons are taught in both English and Chinese, by teachers of multiple nationalities

  • children will easily develop an understanding of each other’s language, culture and mindset

If you’re an expat that foresees your child(ren)’s future set within the Middle Kingdom, or a local Chinese family looking to give your child a Western education that could open doors worldwide, it’s worth considering the benefits that a bilingual school in Shanghai could bring to the table. Looking to the future, it could be beneficial for your child(ren) to be able to fully comprehend the local culture, as well as be able to speak the language, to better help with future work possibilities.

Cost of bilingual schools in Shanghai

Bilingual Schools Classroom

Despite top schools incurring a higher price, bilingual schools are generally cheaper in terms of tuition when compared with traditional international schools in Shanghai. Some bilingual schools have even seen a spark in enrolment over the last couple of years. Why? Because Chinese parents are looking for a school with a good name and the promise of a good university, whilst Western parents need a more affordable alternative to the top international schools with the decline in expat packages. Despite this though, there is a tug-of-war in play in an effort to regulate the explosive popularity of international education among local families in China. (http://family.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai/article/bilingual-education-tug-war)

These costs will, of course, vary depending on your estimated length of stay and whether you choose to enrol your child(ren) from pre-school all the way through to year 12.

Ranging from ¥56,000 per year (US $8,293) to ¥210,000 per year (US $31,1000), here are a few examples of what you can expect to find:



 International Schools 





 Bilingual and Local Schools





 Preschools and Kindergartens



 ¥79,800-¥297,000/year   ¥100,000-¥210,000/year  ¥40,000-¥162,000/year

Curriculum and systems

Bilingual Schools Students Reading

Using two different languages in teaching results in a “fusion of both western and eastern pedagogy [that] makes this one of the most exciting educational ventures in China,” proclaims Wellington College Bilingual Shanghai. Representing a marriage of traditional values and evidence-based practice, bilingual immersion can give children the exposure they need to foster an appreciation and respect for their respective cultures through curriculum and community.

You’ll find curricula options within bilingual schools (sometimes modified) including, but not limited to:

  • IGCSE: the international General Certificate of Secondary Education taken between the ages of 14 to 16. Students are required to study core topics along with a select number of over 70 optional topics. Typically, qualified students move on to study the AP or IB Programme.

  • IB (PYP) (MYP) (DP): The International Baccalaureate Programme includes Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma Programmes. IB fosters critical thinking, problem solving, research and writing skills. The IB DP is accepted in college applications worldwide.

  • the British National Curriculum: following the uniform national curriculum of England where all learning materials are produced in the UK. Exams are marked according to a standardised set of criteria.

  • IPC: The International Primary Curriculum aiming to install in children a desire to learn by focusing on three aspects of subject matter: knowledge, skill and understanding

  • Advanced Placement (AP): Exams for senior students run by a US-based College Board. AP times to emulate first year college courses, enabling high school students to earn college credit.

  • A Levels: A Levels are subject-based qualifications that can lead to university, further study, training or work that are assessed by a widely recognised examination in the world.

Over the years, Shanghai has made steady progress in developing bilingual schools, joint-venture schools and co-operative teaching programs and, within the city, you’ll find a number of different curriculum options available to choose from – including core components from the Shanghai National Curriculum. For example, YK Pao School’s primary and junior divisions offer a rigorous curriculum that combines the Shanghai National Curriculum alongside selected learning standards from around the world. Meanwhile, their secondary division offers IGCSE and IB Diploma programmes that are complemented by components of the Shanghai Curriculum – resulting in that balance of key practices from both sides of the world.

Bilingual Schools Pencil Sharpener

Other bilingual schools in Shanghai which offer the IB programme include Fudan International School (FDIS) a division of a public school that aims to promote creativity, self-reflection and more to nurture holistic development. From Grades 1 to 10 (Year 2 to 11), students follow Common Core – which combines both Western and Chinese components – and from Grades 11-12 students get the choice of IB, AP and A Level. This also seems to be the case at Shanghai Jincai International School (JCID), a government-operated and owned campus with international teaching staff who strive to prepare students to become moral global citizens and Shanghai HD Bilingual School, a private bilingual school catering to families that seek an authentic international education.

Schools such as Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai (NACIS) and Vanke Bilingual School offer progressive blends of core elements of Shanghai’s National Curriculum alongside other international teaching methods and philosophies through both Mandarin and English instruction – from Grades 1 to 12 (Year 2 to 13) and 1 to 9 (Year 2 to 10) respectively. Whilst Wellington College Bilingual Shanghai promise bilingual immersion with 50/50 exposure to both Chinese and English from the ages 2 to 6.

The difference between bilingual and international schooling

Bilingual Schools Computers

With bilingual schools in Shanghai, your child(ren) will be immersed in a dual-language learning environment, as they are allowed to accept both local and foreign students within their institution. They offer a blended curriculum of a given international programme and a Chinese programme, as well as lessons taught by teachers of multiple nationalities in both English and Chinese. Combining the best of Chinese and international education, students will be able to take part in daily exchanges; learn from both native Chinese and English instructors as well as work side-by-side to develop their understanding of each other’s language, culture and mindset.

The benefits of attending a bilingual school

Bilingual Schools Music Reading

Our brains are designed to handle the acquisition of multiple languages, so, immersing children in a bilingual school in Shanghai, from a young age, is certainly one way of heightening the chances that they will easily absorb a second language. As Warren Johnston, Chief Academic Officer of HD Schools and HD Shanghai Bilingual School acknowledges in his school welcome note, “becoming bilingual is no easy task,” but to be placed in an environment where students are immersed in different language will help them to “learn, apply and practice both languages and develop excellent language skills” that will benefit them for years to come.

Benefits include:

  • immersion in multiple languages
  • higher chance of a child becoming bilingual
  • cross-cultural communication
  • practice switching between languages
  • heightened cognitive advantages

In addition to opening the door to cross-cultural communication, this practice of switching between languages can also strengthen the brain’s function to showcase cognitive benefits that help students perform better on certain tasks. A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia, Washington State University and the Direction Evidence and Policy Research Group brought together a study revolving around the analysis of cognitive advantages regarding bilingualism. They found that, compared with monolinguals, bilinguals across their studies had greater attentional control, increased ability to think about language, the knowledge and understanding of one’s own cognitive processes, enhanced problem-solving skills and more – bilingual speakers of all ages demonstrated significant advantages.

What to look for when choosing a bilingual school

Bilingual School Students School Books

Download our School Visit Checklist to take with you.

Looking for, and choosing, the right bilingual school in Shanghai for your child can be a difficult task to accomplish, as you want to be sure that you have made the right choice for you child(ren) and your family. With the range of choice available, how can you be sure that the bilingual school your heart is set on is the ‘right’ one. There is no perfect school, but you can ensure that any bilingual school you choose is the best fit by considering some of the following key questions:

1. Does the school implement its own ethos?

Ethos boils down to the general feel of the school, reflecting the overall mission statement. Research has show that schools with a strong sense of ethos usually show increasing levels of achievement, higher levels of teacher retention and better performance overall. A clear and positive school ethos can help to enhance teaching and learning, however it has to be more than an attempt to brand the school. When taking a tour of your different bilingual school options, look out for signs of the school ethos, or mission statement, being put into practice. Additionally, speak to students who currently attend the school, as they are the key individuals who will be able to tell you first-hand whether they feel there is a strong implementation of goals at play.

2. Who is the school's target audience?

Does the bilingual or local school you are considering aim to cater towards expat families who are wanting their children to receive a bilingual education that benefits their progression in China? Or, does the school cater towards local Chinese families who are seeking a more Western education in the midst of the city in the hopes that it will open doors for their child(ren) worldwide? There’s a growing market for local Chinese families as they seek an alternative to the pressure of China’s public school system through an overseas experience – yet still remaining on Chinese soil.

3. What is the ratio of Mandarin-English instruction?

Bilingual doesn’t always mean that the language of instruction is going to be 50 percent Chinese and 50 percent English/French/German. So, it’s always a good idea to check which language takes precedence when it comes to in-class teaching materials and practices. This will ensure that you’re getting the right ratio for what you think will suit your child(ren) best – which subjects are taught in what language?

For more information on the different schooling systems available in Shanghai, be sure to check out our guide to International Schools as well as our guide to Preschools and Kindergartens in Shanghai for more insight.

Want to see details on schools in Shanghai? Click here to visit Shanghai Family's School Directory.