By Guest Contributor Margaret McClintic, K-12 International Academy

For expats and locals alike, education in Shanghai can bring up myriad concerns for parents living here. Choosing the “right school,” the school with the “best reputation/highest test scores,” the school with the best mix of high-caliber teachers and extracurricular offerings, the school nearest to our homes – these are some factors that may concern parents. Then, there are the different types of schools in Shanghai: international schools that offer differing types of curriculum (British, American, IB, etc…), local Chinese schools that may or may not offer an “international track,” and bilingual schools; not to mention Kindergartens and Pre-Schools. However, have you considered looking into alternative schooling methods in Shanghai?

The term “alternative education” in this article refers to other, so-called “non-traditional” methods for teaching pre-K through senior students, and includes homeschooling, unschooling, online or virtual schooling, experiential learning, and special education. As traditional schools (or “brick & mortar” schools) may not fit the individual needs of a student, as parents may not be satisfied with the offerings, as traditional schools may be out of the price range for families with many children, as students may suffer from bullying or face medical conditions or have special needs, these alternative education models may provide a solution.

Homeschooling or home education has become increasingly popular throughout China in recent years, as reported by many news sources, such as The Wall Street Journal and the China Daily. A recent article published by the US-China Education Review states that, “According to rough estimates, the homeschooling population in China [is] about 18,000, some of whom may be only potential persons or ones interested in it.” Homeschooling provides parents with greater control over their children’s studies and schedule, more flexibility, and personalized attention. Homeschooling groups in Shanghai tend to be small and insular, but are growing – the Shanghai Homeschooling Group called SHARE (Shanghai Homeschool Activities Resources and Encouragement) that meets in Pudong about once a month can be joined through their Yahoo Groups page, and the other, called SALT (Shanghai Area Learners Together) meets in Puxi and can also be joined on their Yahoo Groups page. Homeschooling families may create their own schooling curricula, but usually use resources like online worksheets, textbooks, and purchased materials from homeschooling companies like K12 International Academy or Time4Learning. Homeschooling fits the needs of a growing number of families whose children have different needs.

Unschooling, an educational model coined by John Holt, centers around the idea “that children have an intrinsic motivation to learn about the world and that they can do it without much coercion or interference from adults. The parents’ role in this type of education is to foster an environment where natural learning can flourish by promoting self-regulation, self-understanding, and intrinsic motivation in their children” (Robert, Lyon, The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling: Questionnaire Results). While unschooling can be difficult to define, advocates of unschooling maintain that encouraging “natural learning” to take place based on children’s own interests promotes more efficient and comprehensive learning. While most unschooling takes place in the home, activities based on a child’s interest may take the learners outdoors, to museums, art galleries, etc, not uncommon to the theory of experiential learning (i.e. learning by doing). While some criticize unschooling and homeschooling due to issues surrounding possible isolation/lack of socialization, lack of standardization (especially upon “re-entry” into mainstream bricks and mortar schools), and lack of productivity, there are many ways for parents to supplement their schooling methods through extracurricular activities, play dates, enrolling into summer camps or online communities or courses, joining homeschooling groups, and more.


For parents raising children with special needs, alternative education can be an excellent fit for many families wanting a personalized approach to their children’s education while supporting their mental or physical needs. The Essential Learning Center (with locations in Puxi and in Pudong), offers many solutions through their Innovative Learning Center (ILC), which provides daily programs for children and clients who benefit from individualized education in a caring, small environment. ELG offers full-time programs for individuals of all ages, ranging from intensive-support programs, Supported Learners Program, Independent Learners Program, to Custom Programs. Early intervention remains critical, and parents should remember that traditional brick and mortar schools may not be the best fit for every child. Therefore, it is worthwhile for parents to think carefully about their children’s academic and personal interests and goals, and consider alternative education as another option!


Resources and Additional Reading

Lin, Lillian. “Homeschooling Becomes More Popular in China.” The Wall Street Journal, 2013 August 27, Web 14 April 2015.

Johnson, Ian. “Class Consciousness: China’s New Bourgeoisie Discovers Alternative Education.” The New Yorker, 2014 February 3. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <>

Zhang, Yue. “Home Schooling Popular With Chinese Parents”. China Daily, 2013 September 29. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

Zheng, Guo-Ping. “A Qualitative Study Of Educational Needs Of Homeschooling Families In China”. US-China Education Review B 4.6 (2014): 391-400. Web. 14 Apr. 2015

SHARE (Shanghai Homeschool Activities Resources and Encouragement)

SALT (Shanghai Area Learners Together)

K12 International Academy


Lyon, Robert. “The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling: Questionnaire Results.” 2015 March 30. Web. 14 April 2015.

The Essential Learning Group