The changing landscape of education in China

Education in China is changing. In a recent report was published that recorded approximately 600 international or bilingual schools in China, of which around 480 served Chinese pupils.

This number was the highest for international and bilingual schools in the world. However, the steeply rising trend in China exceeds that for the rest of the world and it was suggested that China now have the most international and bilingual schools. This data is further supported by the fact that China is the second largest investor in education and that households in Beijing and Shanghai spend relatively more on education than those in other cities and countries. Supported by growing affluence, with an increase of 15% of families accessing private school education by 2020, it is anticipated that this trend for growing international and bilingual education growth on China is to continue to increase by around 20% in the coming years.

This changing appetite for education is reflected in the increasing numbers of Chinese nationals studying overseas, with an estimated 800, 000 doing so in higher education institutes as well as schools. It is clear that parents are seeking alternative educational experiences for their children. This seems to be a consequence of changing expectations in education. Their expectations seem to increasingly focus on:

• Access to international education and access to the strongest international universities
• Relevant international qualifications
• Holistic and child centred education that promotes a wider context to learning; e.g. promotion of arts and physical development and a greater emphasis on pastoral provision and pupil wellbeing
• Recognition that in the 21st century successful individuals display resilience, independence, social and emotional intelligence, critical thinking and leadership. Parents want an education that promotes these along with high standards of academic outcomes
• Bilingualism; e.g. acquisition of the English language
• Growing awareness of other perspectives in education

With a growing demand for an education that better meets parental expectations, it seems their needs will be met with the growth in the private school market. However, parents will need to be aware of the challenges they face in selecting an educational experience for their children. They will need to consider a wide range of factors in selecting an appropriate school for their child or children within the bilingual market. For instance:

What is the relative difference in bilingual education?

Schools have a distinct vision and varying educational models and aspirations for their pupils. This greatly influences the leadership and organisation of the experienced curriculum. Thus, an awareness of the variance in educational offer is vital. But what should parents look for?

How do schools define and offer bilingual education?

Bilingual education can have many definitions. It could involve simply an exposure to English or be a genuinely structured programme. It could be test focused, offer a dual language experience or be a commitment to developing fluency through Chinese and English in all curriculum areas. Each definition has an impact on the educational experience of the pupils. Parents will need to determine which is the right model for their children and their long-term aspirations.

What is the nature of the curriculum?

Developing bilingual curricula is complex and is a function of the vision of the school along with the definition of bilingualism. Moreover, the relative centricity of a specific educational system will greatly determine the school structure and the experiences of the pupils. For example, some models can be Chinese or International education centric. Or indeed, some aspire to be a genuine merger of both. Does the model seek to provide a structurally Chinese education sprinkled with international flavour, or perhaps the converse in which an international programme is simply spiced with references to Chinese education. Or perhaps it builds upon the strengths of the Chinese system and blends it with features of western education approaches identified as being important in realising the vision for the school. The curriculum then determines qualifications attained; will it be international qualifications such as IGCSE or an IB Diploma? Perhaps just as important is the pedagogical approach upheld by the school and what philosophy and expectations it sets out for learning and teaching.

What is the nature of pastoral provision?

How pastoral provision is organised and experienced influences the wellbeing of pupils. It is clear that parents desire an education that is more nurturing for their children, but approaches vary along with the relative commitment to pastoral practices and resourcing.

In an emerging market standards are hard to establish and frequently vary, especially when the context of the curriculum is unfamiliar. Parents must seek to discern standards in educational provision, the vision of the leaders, quality of teaching and not simply reports of pupil achievement.

The points above portray a turbulent picture within the landscape of bilingual education. However, educators are plotting an increasing informed and developed journey for pupils and their education. The next section below introduces the Wellington College China perspective on bilingual education.

Wellington College China is extremely proud of its international schools in Tianjin and Shanghai. Indeed, they serve as the foundation of Wellington College China and represent the uniquely authentic and close partnership with Wellington College in Berkshire, England. The strength of this partnership ensures fidelity and consistency in our values and identity across the entire group.

But we are also passionately committed to shaping the landscape of the private school education offer. Wellington College China will provide a bilingual education to Chinese pupils rooted in the traditional values and the progressive approach to learning synonymous with Wellington College.

The vision is to inspire pupils to become intellectual, independent, individual and inclusive; our Wellington identity. This is consistent in any Wellington College and certainly the case for our international schools. Education in Wellington College Bilingual schools will be based on a model that establishes a strong understanding of the rich heritage and culture of China and a deep sense of being Chinese, while also establishing the values, aptitudes and knowledge needed to be a successful global citizen. We aim to prepare pupils for success during and after life at the College.

Learning in Wellington College China Bilingual education is inspired by the following 3 principles:

• The Wellington Values and Identity
• Bilingualism
• Developing a deep understanding of the heritage and culture of China and using this to establish the aptitudes and skills needed to be a successful global citizen

Together these principles shape life at the College and inspire the entire community. To truly understand the educational model, it will be necessary to explore each principle more deeply.

The Wellington Values and Identity

The philosophy that drives learning in Wellington College Bilingual is consistent with the vision for all Wellington College schools, an education rooted in our traditional values coupled with a progressive approach to learning and development. All aspects of life in the College imbue the Wellington Values of Courage, Integrity, Respect, Kindness and Responsibility. The values drive the vision and leadership of the College and are modelled by all members of the community and cultivated within all learning experiences, whether in the classroom, in the theatre or on the rugby pitch. The values are a tangible entity that permeate the pastoral programme, pupil’s experience in their House and through the co-curriculum programmes.

Wellington College defines the product of a Wellington education in terms of its identity. This is not merely a reference to academic outcomes, but instead defines character and attributes of a Wellingtonian. We believe our identity underpins excellence in academic performance, but also so much more. Successful individuals possess a wide range of traits beyond merely academic results and in the 21st Century there exists demands on individuals that are not always inherently promoted within established education systems. A Wellingtonian will be: Inspired, Intellectual, Independent, Individual and Inclusive. The Wellington Identity is at the heart of our vision and what we passionately believe is fundamental to our pupils living successful lives at and beyond the College.

Through the Wellington Identity, learning is holistic in nature in that the intention is to develop the whole-child, aspects of an individual that we know are profoundly important for thriving in the world today.

To achieve the Wellington Identity, the educational framework is structured around the Wellington Aptitudes, 8 aspects of learning that underpin our holistic approach to education. The Wellington Aptitudes are derived from the work of Howard Gardner at Harvard University on multiple intelligences. They form the organisation of the experienced curriculum at Wellington College Bilingual, so that pupils will have opportunities to develop and enhance each aptitude through exposure to a rich, deep and meaningful set of learning experience that cover each aptitude so that learning is well-rounded and complete. The Wellington Aptitudes are: logical, linguistic, cultural, physical, moral, spiritual, social and personal.

The Wellington Aptitudes are promoted through the core curriculum, in the classrooms and subjects taught. But they are also developed through our commitment to providing a broad and rich co-curriculum learning experience. This means pupils will develop an awareness of morality both in a history lesson as well as on the football pitch. They will feel the awe and wonder of our world through studying science but also engaging in experiential learning across China and the world.


At Wellington College Bilingual our unique approach to language acquisition comprises a 50/50% exposure to Chinese and English, fostering bilingualism and bi-literacy. In order to achieve our aims of bilingualism, we must be clear on establishing a Wellington College Bilingual definition of what a bilingual learner is. We define bilingual as an individual who is able to make a seamless transition between the two languages of instruction. A bilingual person can read, write, understand, think and speak in the two languages without hindrance at all levels. This is to say that they are able to make the intercultural and linguistic transitions seamlessly, whether it be for study, business or leisure. Bilingual leaners think, dream and tell jokes in the two languages. The Wellington College bilingual immersion experience offers each and every pupil their own, personalised learning journey.

The mastery of language is an exciting lifelong journey of discovery. We must remember that all journeys start with small steps, supported by guides who help us on the way. We must celebrate and relish each of those milestones. As pupils transition through the phases of language development from ‘the silent period’, through ‘early production’ and finally to ‘fluency’ and beyond, our unique approach is designed to structure their language learning and development. This begins long before the pupil’s first day at the College, through our pre-admissions programme, and continues up to their final day with us.

Adopting a research-based approach to language acquisition, learning is carefully structured and provides personalised experiences coherently across the full breadth of the curriculum. Wellingtonians will not only be fluent in Chinese and English, but possess the technical language and cultural understanding to allow them to thrive as Chinese citizens learning and working in international contexts.

Chinese heritage and culture

Learning at Wellington College Bilingual is a rich fabric constructed with fibres that are inherently Chinese. An essential outcome from an education at Wellington College Bilingual is that pupils will have developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the rich heritage and culture of China. We aim to cultivate pupils that are inspired by their home nation, that celebrate and passionately learn about their history and traditions, grow an understanding of what it is to be Chinese and embrace social practices and norms. Our pupils will utilise this strong sense of being Chinese as a prism through which to learn about and understand other cultures and develop the aptitudes needed to be successful global citizens.