Irate Chinese parents demand refunds from pricey private schools

Linda J. Dodson

Private international schools in China are being asked for refunds from parents unhappy with online learning programs provided by schools that are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Parents of students at the Sanlitun campus of the British School of Beijing recently were told they must pay up to 70,000 yuan ($10,000) in tuition, even though only online classes are available. Some parents complained that the e-learning programs do not justify the cost.

“I can teach my child math and Chinese myself,” a parent of a first-grader told Caixin. “The education arranged by the school can’t meet our expectations, despite the expensive tuition.” 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 fielding refund requests, among them the International School of Beijing, a pre-K through grade 12 private school in Beijing’s expatriate suburb of Shunyi. Dulwich College Beijing, a British international school, and Western Academy of Beijing are in similar straights.

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

“Our teachers are working hard every day, and we have to make sure they get paid,” John Brett, principal of Sanlitun school, told parents. The school still has not indicated when it will reopen.

The British School of Beijing at Sanlitun, a private K-6 school, is part of Hong Kong-based Nord Anglia Education. The school accepts only foreigners, or Chinese with foreign citizenship or permanent residence, according to a parent. Neither the school nor its operator responded to Caixin’s requests for comment.

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

Since the Chinese 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.

For example, to learn how to pronounce and write the letter “P,” kindergartners received from their teacher a prerecorded video of less than two minutes, a picture and four pages of coloring homework, according to an email from a parent.

Several parents said they want the school to offer 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 classes with younger children. A parent of a second-grader said some parents do not have good enough English skills to help their children with lessons.

To improve teaching quality, the school started a weekly 30-minute live class using Zoom, a popular videoconferencing 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 starting June 22 for all students and offering free tutoring once the school reopens.

However, as the outbreak continues to spread, it is still not certain when the school’s foreign teachers can return to Beijing. Many parents said they are pessimistic about the outlook for reopening in the near term.

Read also the original story. is the English-language online news portal of Chinese financial and business news media group Caixin. Nikkei recently agreed with the company to exchange articles in English.

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