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Shanghai private schools warned to focus more on official subjects, including ideology

Shanghai’s education authority has warned local private schools not to focus on international curriculums at the expense of officially designated subjects, including ideology.

The move comes as many Chinese parents increasingly choose a Western education for their children.

Last week, the city’s municipal education commission met the heads of more than 20 private schools catering to students aged six to 15, who by Chinese law must take compulsory classes in moral and political education classes.

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It banned the schools from teaching international subjects without them being combined with the “basic curriculum” developed by the central authorities, according to the minutes of the meeting later circulated on the internet.

The minutes were later confirmed by local education workers.

Although not a new requirement, some researchers and parents regard the warning as a reiteration of the importance of officially designated subjects on moral and political education because many private schools have cancelled such classes.

Private schools offering international courses are growing in popularity in major cities such as Shanghai as an increasing number of parents choose to send their children to study abroad before they start university.

While students at private schools need not pay for compulsory education, they usually charge fees totalling many thousands of yuan each semester.

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Many of these schools adopt international curriculums to attract Chinese pupils and deviate from the mainstream curriculum that includes ideology, as well as other subjects such as Chinese, mathematics and history.

China’s official curriculum requires primary and junior middle school pupils to study the subject of morality and rule of law, which covers mainly socialist values and politics.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy head of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said it was common for private schools to focus more on international curriculums because they believed this helped pupils perform better than those attending public schools and led to them being more sought after by parents.

“These school are doing quite well – their pupils are either able to apply for oversea schools or adapt well to domestic examinations,” Xiong said. “It’s just that some schools might have quit teaching the moral or ideology subjects.”

Yang Yi, the mother of a teenager at Shanghai’s United International School, a popular private school in the city, said that instead of her daughter studying morality and rule of law, she was taught how to handle social issues from a psychological perspective.

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“However, I recently heard that some pupils are required to recite moral slogans, just as we did during our time at school,” she said. “I guess the schools are aware of the rules and are now preparing for inspections [by the education authority].”

Last week’s meeting also called for all foreign investment to be stopped at these private schools, which are permitted to receive only domestic funding – prompting speculation that officials are further tightening controls over international courses preferred by parents in Shanghai and other megacities.

The commission included a list of these rules in a statement on its official Weibo webpage in response to heated public discussions surrounding the meeting, saying it was merely trying to standardise the governance of private schools in accordance with existing policies.