Children of expat families may attend the local Chinese schools or the various international schools. There are significant differences in the systems and costs of education.
Chinese students attend schools from 8 am until at least 5 pm. They then go home and do the hours of homework that have been assigned to them. There is no time for after-school activities or just playing and/or relaxing. Some students even take classes until 10 pm. Expat children who choose to attend Chinese schools will not find many school activities other than studying. The Chinese educational objectives are to prepare the students to pass the university admissions tests that are given just once per year. Instruction is by rote – memorization and repetition do seem to work with math and science, but there is little room left for creative or imaginative thinking. All instruction in the local schools is in Mandarin Chinese.
On the other hand, expat children may want to enroll in one of the many internationals schools in Shanghai that follow the national curriculum established by the United States, England, France, Germany, Singapore, or other countries. These schools offer the standard wide selection of after-work activities and sports teams. However, a distinct drawback is their expense: tuition and fees range from 70,000 RMB to 200,000 RMB for a school year (the fees escalate as the grade level increases).
If you place your child in the Chinese system, be prepared for a vastly different teaching methodology than you experienced in your home country. Class sizes in China are typically much larger than in the West, and the teacher is omnipotent; i.e., they are assumed to be correct in all matters. On the plus side, if your child attends the primary school for 3-4 years, then they will be at least 2 years ahead of Westerners in Math and Science (and they will speak Mandarin perfectly).
Bear in mind, however, that expat children do not usually attend Chinese schools. In addition to the philosophical differences and the language barrier, being the only Western child in an almost exclusively Chinese environment and, therefore, the center of attention, can also make adjusting a difficult challenge.