2020-04-15 05:02:59

Private international schools in China are facing refund requests from parents unsatisfied with online learning as many institutions remain closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Parents of students at the Sanlitun campus of the British School of Beijing were recently told they must pay tuition of as much as 70,000 yuan ($10,000) even though only online classes are being provided. Some parents complained that the e-learning doesn’t justify the cost.

“I can teach my child math and Chinese myself,” a parent of a first-grader told Caixin. “With the expensive tuition, the education provided by the school can’t meet our expectations.” Choosing a private international school is more about immersion education than simply teaching math and Chinese, the parent said.

Other international schools in Beijing are also facing refund disputes. The International School of Beijing, a pre-K through grade 12 private school in Beijing’s suburban Shunyi District; Dulwich College Beijing, a British international school; and Western Academy of Beijing are in similar straits.

China’s Ministry of Education last week issued a notice forbidding schools from charging tuition in advance. But for many private schools, advance payment is the only way to keep their operations going, administrators said. Revenue loss during the epidemic has already put some private kindergartens at risk of closure.

“Our teachers are working hard every day, and we have to make sure they get paid,” Sanlitun school Principal John Brett said in a communication with parents. The school still hasn’t posted a reopening date.

The British School of Beijing at Sanlitun, a private school from kindergarten to sixth grade, is part of the Hong Kong-based company Nord Anglia Education. The school accepts only foreigners or Chinese with foreign citizenship or permanent residence, according to a parent. The Sanlitun school and Nord Anglia Education didn’t respond to Caixin’s requests for comment.

The school is urging parents to pay tuition for the next session running April 6 to June 18. Principal Brett stressed that tuition is the school’s only revenue source.

Since the Lunar New Year break from late January to early February, the school has been closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, like most other schools in China. Meanwhile, the school is offering e-learning via email.

A kindergarten’s e-learning class includes a prerecorded video of less than two minutes from the teacher, a picture, and four pages of coloring homework, aiming to teach children to pronounce and write the English letter “P,” according to an email provided by a parent.

Several parents said they want the school to provide online teaching equivalent to offline classes as much as possible, but they also complained that the online education created an “overwhelming” burden for parents who have to sit through the classes with younger children. A second-grader’s parent said some parents do not have sufficient English skills to help their children with lessons.

To improve teaching quality, the school started a weekly half hour of live teaching through Zoom, a popular video conferencing tool, in late March. But the class turned out to be more like online chatting rather than teaching, parents said.

In the latest plan, the principal said the school is considering providing free summer classes for all students starting June 22, and offering free tutoring once the school reopens.

However, as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread globally, it’s still uncertain when the school’s many foreign teachers can come back to Beijing. Many parents said they are pessimistic about the outlook for reopening in the near term.

This is an original article written by Su Huixian and Denise Jia of Caixin Global, and has been republished with permission. The article can be found on Caixin’s website here.

(Header image: A girl completes an e-learning assignment using an iPad at her home in Beijing, Feb. 17, 2020. People Visual)