The Changing Face of International Schools In China

With a career spanning more than two decades in international schooling in Asia, John McBryde speaks to Sophie Loras about the changing education landscape in China.



It had never been on John McBryde’s radar to come to China, instead he says, China called him. He arrived in Beijing in 1998 to take up the role of director of the Western Academy of Beijing – at that time, one of only three international schools catering for the education needs of the expatriate community in the city.


Originally from Brisbane, John McBryde had arrived from Indonesia and was already strongly entrenched in the international school system. Between 1998 and 2007, he helped grow WAB’s student numbers from 400 to 1500, introduced international curriculums, expanded the school’s offerings to include secondary schooling and moved the school from its original textile warehouse campus to a state of the art facility in the inner city. He also played an instrumental role in enhancing cross-cultural interaction for the school’s expatriate students and their localChinese surroundings..

Beijing is still very much home for Mr McBryde, but much has changed from the China he first knew in 1998.

“I kind of fell in love with Beijing from the get go,” says Mr McBryde of those early days.

John McBryde Classroom web*Pictured right: John McBryde, Director of BIBS and CEO of the Beanstalk Education Group with students.

But, within 18 months of arriving in China, things began to change very quickly as the country began preparing for its entry into the World Trade Organisation. “At that time, you could see the change – it started as a trickle and then a boom,” says Mr McBryde.

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By collecting and sharing enrolment data with the other international schools in Beijing at that time, Mr McBryde and his colleagues began witnessing first hand the effects of China’s opening up policies.

“There was huge growth in the international schools and it basically mirrored the opening up and development of China,” says Mr McBryde.

“The schools grew and new schools came in. It was an exciting time and you’d go away for a trip and come back and everything had changed again.” There was a strong feeling of optimism in China at that time – that anything and everything was possible.

“There was just a great energy in the school and in Beijing. You knew you were watching history in the making and there were opportunities for our schools in facility and programme growth.”

For the Western Academy of Beijing, that included rapid growth in student numbers and expanding the school’s offerings to include middle school education and improving teaching, sporting and campus facilities.


It also meant growing the school’s culture to have a more inclusive element in its engagement with China.

“At the time we recognized we needed something different and I think WAB was at the forefront in engaging with China,” says Mr McBryde. Mr McBryde’s involvement in recording and sharing enrollment data with the other international schools in Beijing in the early years, also led him to play an integral role in developing the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools, where he served as both Chairman and Treasurer of the ACAMIS Board. ACAMIS quickly grew to include sporting opportunities and student and teacher exchanges with other international schools in Beijing and China. Mr McBryde has also served on the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) board.

Today, the number of international schools in Beijing is so great, Mr McBryde has stopped counting, and with those increasing numbers, the definition of what constitutes an international school has also changed.

The traditional international school model has reached saturation point in China, with the boom of expatriates slowing.

Growing costs in China, localisation of the work force, and pollution are all having impacts on the number of foreigners living in China, “and we are seeing a slow and possible end to that kind of international school,” says Mr McBryde.

Currently in China, traditional international schools can only enroll students with international passports. But it hasn’t stopped a boom in Chinese international schools being able to offer international schooling to local Chinese children.

With his recent appointment as Director of Beijing school BIBS and CEO of the Beanstalk Education Group, Mr McBryde is now using his experience to help a Chinese international school grow its international offerings for local Chinese and expatriate students.

“It is a school that really focuses on international school education for the home country community and one that really pushes the idea of bilingual education,” says Mr McBryde. “Everyone values Chinese language these days – it is very highly valued,” says Mr McBryde.

Beanstalk International Bilingual School has 35 nationalities – 75 percent of them are Chinese. The school offers the IB programme and a Chinese curriculum.

“20 years ago, schools were very diverse in terms of passports but very narrow in view of internationalization. Today it is the reverse, maybe one or two nationalities make up the majority of a school but the outlook has matured and that’s exciting. There is a more international outlook and a greater emphasis on being able to speak more than one language and being a global citizen,” says Mr McBryde.

“That’s where international schools are at and I think it provides a powerful model for countries
like Australia to learn from.” 


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