Shanghai Enforcing Ban on Overseas Curricula at International Schools

Education authorities in Shanghai have sought to reaffirm a government rule that bans international schools attended by Chinese students from using imported curricula in their entirety.

The action comes amid official concerns over the erosion of Chinese values and national identity.

The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission summoned principals from 21 international and bilingual schools from across the city and representatives from district education bureaus to an October 19 meeting, where the commission told the schools to tighten oversight of their respective curricula.

Education authorities also told administrators at international schools and public schools that have international units to comply with government rules on “national education”—the teaching of Chinese history, constitution, law and morals.

However, city education officials didn't say what was behind the renewed push for more China-specific subjects at international schools.

But the move comes amid growing concerns among policymakers over the rising number of international schools and public schools that have units using Western curricula, which some warn could encroach on the party-led school system and its values.

In a commentary published on October 13, the state-run Xinhua News Agency criticized some international schools for violating Chinese law and government regulations by failing to include China-specific subjects in their curricula.

The news agency also took a swipe at school regulators for their lack of oversight of the curricula at international schools.

As Chinese families become increasingly wealthy, more parents perceive international schools as a better alternative to the rigid curricula and rote learning styles used by government-run schools, and see the international schools as a springboard for their children to continue their studies overseas.

News about the meeting, which broke on Monday (October 24), sparked heated debate on social media, with many parents expressing worries that the upcoming changes could make international schools no different from mainstream schools.

In a microblog post on Monday, the Education Commission confirmed the news and sought to reassure the public, asking parents not to read too much into the move while reiterating that international schools were required to comply with Chinese law and government regulations on education.

The policy toward international schools that operate exclusively for children of foreigners remains unchanged, the commission said.

An education consultant who provides parents with advice on school selection told Caixin that schools that provide a Primary Year Program and an International Primary Curriculum, two imported curricula for students aged 3 to 12, would be the most affected by the move.

Schools that have already made changes to their curricula for Chinese students may be required to further cut back on imported subjects in their curricula, the consultant said.