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The Impact of Coronavirus on International Schools – China’s Schools Prepare to Reopen

by Anne Keeling | Communications Director | ISC Research

As schools in China begin to carefully and, in a phased approach, re-open their doors to students, there are several key concerns and challenges they are now facing.

ISC Research field researchers based in China have been gathering intelligence from the international and private bilingual schools in the country to understand how reopening after coronavirus will be impacting them. These insights may help international schools around the world prepare for their own reopening plans.

Most international and private bilingual schools in China have prepared their re-opening plans. These are including the introduction of systems limiting campus access such as temperature checks and green QR health codes, heightened cleaning and sanitising regimes, systems to manage pupil gatherings such as staggered dining and online assemblies broadcast to classrooms, protocols for managing suspected virus cases during the school day, and changes to school transport plans.

Public exams have been cancelled, but some schools are particularly concerned for their current year 10 and year 12 students (grades 9 and 11 i.e. the first year of International GCSE and the first year of International A levels or IB Diploma programme). In China, parents of younger primary age children can be just as concerned about lost learning in the earlier years, as parents with older students facing exams.

Despite the significant efforts of teachers, students and their parents, online learning, regardless of how well it is planned and executed, cannot replicate the classroom experience. Many experiences and opportunities will have been missed. Some parents are asking schools how they intend to address gaps in learning when their child’s school eventually re-opens. Parents are asking about the possibility of schools extending their school day or delivering weekend lessons. Some parents are asking their schools to extend the school year or offer free summer schools to the students for catch-up. Schools are learning to challenge fake news about what their competitors are offering; some parents are making claims about what other schools are doing; but when checked, the claims often prove inaccurate. Some parents are seeking a rebate on this year’s tuition fees, or a freeze or reduction in next year’s fees. Some schools are considering one-off bursaries for families who are experiencing temporary financial difficulty.

Concerns for the wellbeing of students, staff, and the wider school community will continue for an extended period. There may be a need for schools to support those who have felt particularly isolated and lonely, those who may have financial worries, those who will have medical concerns and a new fear of becoming ill, those who are mourning the death of a loved one whose funeral they are unable to attend, and those who have missed a significant family event such as a postponed wedding, a deferred graduation ceremony, or other major event. For an extended period, there will still be limited opportunities to mix and socialise and this too will have an impact on people’s wellbeing. Children will continue to be isolated as restrictions remain. So much of the non-academic enriching curriculum, such as school productions and sports competitions which are at the centre of developing ‘the whole child’, may be missing for a time as some restrictions remain in place. Some parents are asking for a narrower focus on the academic curriculum when schools reopen.

There is likely to be a large and, possibly, permanent impact on the economy, and schools are likening the coronavirus to the financial crash of 2008. That crisis saw a significant reduction in demand for student places for some schools in the year following the crash. Some school leaders are questioning how many families will still be able to afford premium international and private school fees. However, as a result of the coronavirus, some Chinese families may be more cautious about sending their child to an overseas boarding school, preferring to keep their child with them in China, sending them to their local international or private school instead.

There is no doubt that most schools will be giving serious consideration to their education continuity plans for the future. Many schools are already exploring the online platforms that work best for them, and developing systems, structures and practices to ensure that all members of their school community are well placed should there be any form of disruption to learning in the future.

There may well be a fall in the supply of international teachers worldwide. Teachers may be less willing to live so far from their home country and family, having experienced an extended period in which borders have been closed. Schools are beginning to consider alternative options at this time. However, as the coronavirus is now a global pandemic, there is a view that China may be well positioned to realise a faster recovery than many other regions in the world. Expatriate teachers may take reassurance from how well China has been able to contain the spread of the virus.Some international schools have been perceived as being relatively successful in delivering well-structured online learning during the shutdown. They may be increasingly seen by parents as a dependable education solution, even through the huge challenges of a global crisis. But for now, it is too early to tell how the implications of the coronavirus will impact the demand for enrolment of students next academic year.

ISC Research will be closely and constantly tracking this impact and the future prospects for international and private schools around the world. More information is available at where you can find blogs sharing coronavirus implications, details of school closures as a result of coronavirus updated weekly, and reports and support available for international schools.


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