The school system in China is known to be rigorous and competitive. Annual examinations and the inevitable scandals, struggles, and triumphs related to the examination period make front page news in almost every city. Facilities are often old, unimpressive, and limited in scope.
Few foreigners send their kids to local schools, although the trend has picked up in recent years. One of the main reasons is due to the language and cultural barrier between families and schools. Children would need to speak, read, and write Chinese–this becomes extremely difficult if students are not placed in a Chinese learning environment in the preschool and kindergarten stage. Once kids are past kindergarten or the lower elementary grade levels, they may find it hard to keep up altogether even if they did start at an early age. Also, Chinese educational and classroom discipline practices differ from the west, so much so that parents often feel these to be in complete conflict with their own values, making it a challenge to provide consistency between home and school.
Most public schools in China, although obligated by law, hesitate to accept foreign students because they are worried that a struggling non-native student will affect their school rankings. Schools rarely employ administrators or teachers who can speak English, making communication with parents difficult.
However, there are some public schools in Beijing with a long tradition of accepting limited numbers of foreign students as part of an established international department. Those considering these options will need to inquire at each school in person. Application materials are only in Chinese and unless you’re fluent, it would be wise to bring an interpreter as well. Spots are limited at public schools so it is best to visit the school the semester before you intend to enroll.