From 2010 to 2017, the field of K-12 international schools in China has boomed, with a total of 383 popping up around the country. The growth rate since 2012 has surpassed 40 per year and continues to expand geographically. This phenomenon has shifted the landscape of educational opportunities and aspirations for families, and is even re-shaping the concept of “international education” with Chinese characteristics.
The rapidly emerging industry in China, while capturing much attention domestically and overseas for its market potential and opportunities, is more fundamentally a testament of the increasingly open mindedness of Chinese society. The beginning of 21st century China laid the groundwork for the public’s adoption of international standards and practices. The nation’s entry into the World Trade Organization and Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics, both in 2001, were milestones for China, and reset the world stage. Economic and social reforms have created transformational times ever since.
Among the industries of internationalization in China, international education has in recent years become one of the most widely accepted and adopted. During the first decade (2001-2010), international education grew sharply in the form of overseas study abroad. Chinese students broke international student enrollment records at US institutions of higher education and now lead international student enrollment in US primary and secondary education. However, not until the second decade (2011-2020) did international education in the form of public and private international schooling in China see dramatic growth.
In a country with Confucian roots stretching more than three thousand years deep, education is not only highly valued, it is a part of the culture. As international education is relatively new and foreign in China, its growth rate is quite remarkable. More to the point, by studying in international track high schools, students essentially opt out of the National University Entrance Examination (“Gao Kao”), taking them past the point of no return from traditional ones. However, with the high stakes context created by the one-child policy (1979-2015), families have sought the best educational resources for their only child, wherever that may be, and sparing no expense. Under these circumstances, the promise of international schools has come out on top when it is available and affordable to the local population.