The Parents Dos and Don'ts

By Luke Sheehan 2019-04-29 15:48:22

Choosing a school for your teenager is tricky anywhere. In the megacity of Shanghai it can be even more puzzling.


Choosing a school for your teenager is tricky anywhere. In the megacity of Shanghai it can be even more puzzling. Just as carving out a career in modern China has its inevitable dilemmas for expats, growing up and learning intensively here is sure to be a challenge, as well as a rich opportunity, for their offspring. All the more reason to face these challenges in the best possible setting. For most families, that setting will be one of the many International Schools that make up the backbone of high-quality international secondary education in Shanghai.

To quickly inform anyone unaware: “International School” denotes an institution dedicated to educating the children of foreign communities. With some exceptions, Chinese citizens do not typically attend these schools; if the child of a Chinese national does attend one, this is almost always because one parent is from a foreign country the couple has chosen to retain foreign citizenship. International Schools’ curriculums are not overseen by the Chinese Ministry of Education. If you are seeking a fuller immersion in Chinese language or exposure to its educational system, then this guide is not for you.

The decision process is one that can usher in heated family discussions. Having passed through primary school and looking forward to the last phase of secondary education, your child may well have ideas of his or her own about where to undertake the crucial last stretch of the race. Is expanding language ability and multicultural experience the most important factor? Or do they need or wish to orient their choice around an ultimate college destination in your home country?

However your family decides to make the final plunge, run through this minimal check list of Dos (what to go for) and Don’ts (what to avoid) before you start the process of researching your potential schools in-depth.

Parent Dos

  • Make a long-list of potential schools, then narrow this down to two or three possible destinations based on your minimal requirements.
  • Take a holistic view. In deciding what your minimal requirements are, try to consider not only where you would like your child to go from now, but how their experience of education has gone so far. Not only their proven strengths and weaknesses but the chance to face new challenges and grow.
  • Consider early on the single-country / international-focus option. Some schools have an obvious connection to a source country while others boast a more integrated curriculum. In both cases, the greater background context of China will still make a big difference. Take the time to consider what the benefits might be from a totally unique school experience.
  • Assemble information from a variety of sources. This is important when making your long list. In making first judgments of schools, consult the material produced by the school itself, articles and assessments online, magazines like this one. Word of mouth information from peers can be useful, but may also be misleading. There may also be social groups organized by graduates of individual schools.
  • Remember to factor in practical logistics. This is an obvious reminder – and all the more reason to include it. Where is the school located? Can, or should we move house to get closer to a desirable one? How will other variables (design, age of facilities, security, reliability of administrative staff) affect the outcome?

Parent Don'ts

  • Make judgments based entirely on a recognized brand or legacy. A connection to another school or even country that commends respect should have only a slight effect on your thinking; in this complex, changing country, a variety of factors will influence the quality of education offered by each school.
  • Forget to connect to communities already involved with the schools on your shortlist: insofar as possible, do a little outreach to any groups of parents or students who have invested their time in a given school. As well as basic information, knowing them a little will help you to decide if you wish to join their community.
  • Be daunted by waiting lists and other procedural hassles. China often displays a baffling (to the foreign mind) combination of efficiency and disorganization. A bit of patience, politeness and consistent pressure will help you overcome administrative hurdles, as long as your child is qualified. Do not be afraid to ask specific questions (as politely as possible) about hiring practices. Whether you ask the school directly or find another trusted source, it is worth spending sometime being as probing as you can – without trying to be Sherlock Holmes. Remember that teachers should be incentivized, happy and career driven, as well as trustworthy and competent. Their well-being is crucial for ensuring a great experience for your child. Is it possible to find out the retention rate of teachers? What pay and benefits do they receive? What are the background checks and other safety and security standards applied?
  • Neglect your son or daughter’s input. We’ve already mentioned it, but at this phase of learning the human personality is gearing up for a lifetime of tough decisions. Even if by chance they profess to be apathetic, encourage them to participate in this process, one that is sure to influence their fast-approaching adulthood, whether that takes place in China or far, far away.