The Ministry of Education's recent move to prevent Chinese primary and middle school students from enrolling in international schools or international sections of regular schools has prompted discussion about whether a simple ban is the best method of regulation.
The ban does not apply to high school students, who may attend private international schools or the international section of a public high school. However, they are not allowed to transfer to the ordinary section.
In addition, schools set up for the children of foreign workers should not bring in any Chinese students, the ministry said in a notice issued last month.
Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said the compulsory education law requires that all Chinese students complete nine years of study with instruction given in Chinese, but at some international schools children are taught as foreign students and only receive their lessons in English.
The ministry's move is designed to ensure that all students can be instructed in Chinese for the compulsory curriculum before furthering their education, he said.
But it may be hard to implement the new rule, since many parents want their children to study at international schools at a young age to better prepare them for universities abroad.
Zhan Wenling, principal of Country Lake Bilingual International School in Foshan, Guangdong province, said that with more competition for a limited number of higher education opportunities in China, parents are increasingly thinking about sending their children to Western universities. As a result, international schools have become popular.
But there has been a lack of oversight for international schools, and some schools only aim to help students apply for good universities abroad, not cultivate skills, Zhan said.
Students will get lots of help to apply for foreign universities, yet their academic abilities may not meet the requirements of the universities. Many students drop out of universities because they cannot meet the standards, she said.
"I do not think students should only learn a foreign language at a young age. They should first learn Chinese language and Chinese culture, so that they can communicate equally with students from other countries as they grow older. One should not forget his or her roots, as our roots are what made us what and who we are."
But parents like Li Yong, whose son has attended an international primary school in Shanghai, are not fans of the new rule. Simply banning international schools from enrolling Chinese students will not dissuade parents who want their children to attend good foreign universities, as they can simply send them to after-school training institutions that offer preparatory classes, he said.
Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said rather than forbidding international schools and classes from enrolling students, they should simply add the content of Chinese compulsory education to the curriculum, so the students can learn both in Chinese and about foreign language and culture.
Yuan Zhanjiang, principal of Ningbo Wanli International School in Zhejiang province, said international high schools usually cost 80,000 to 120,000 yuan ($12,000 to 18,000) per year, while ordinary high schools cost less than 10,000 yuan annually.
Parents should consider their financial situation before sending their children to international high schools, as students can also prepare for foreign universities at ordinary high schools, he said.