Introduction To The Chinese Education System​

For how many years do Chinese go to school? Who pays for education in China? What role do after-school clubs play? 

Here you will find all the basics of the Chinese education system in one place!

The Structure of Education System in China

Education in China is mainly organized by the state-run public education system, which falls under the command of the Ministry of Education. All citizens must attend school for a minimum of nine years, funded by the government.

Compulsory education includes six years of primary education, typically starting at the age of six and finishing at the age of twelve, followed by three years of junior secondary education. Some provinces may have five years of primary schooling but four years for junior middle school, followed by three years of senior secondary school, by the end of which the secondary education level is completed.

The system is funded by the government and the tuition is free, but schools are still charging some miscellaneous fees. Senior secondary school (grade 10 to 12) and college education are optional in China and based on tuition fees.

Pre-School Education

Pre-school education is an important component of the education in China.

In urban areas, pre-school education is mainly organized in kindergartens for kids age 1 to 3 years. Pre-school education is not compulsory and many of the schools are privately owned. Daycare can be full-time, part-time or based on hourly needs.

In rural areas, pre-school education consists mainly of nursery classes and seasonal kindergartens in addition. In some areas, besides the normal preschool education, irregular education institutions of various forms, such as children activity centres, game groups and mobile aid centres, can be found.

Following the policy of providing pre-school education by the state, pre-school education in China has made significant progress within the last years. In 2019, there were 281,174 kindergartens with an enrollment of 47,138,810 children. Pre-school education has been generally universalised in big and middle-sized cities.

During recent years, pre-school education in rural areas has developed rapidly. The kindergartens combine childcare with teaching in order for children to develop physically, morally, intellectually, and aesthetically in a harmonious way to get ready for their formal school education.

The educational activities conducted in kindergartens constitute a systematic, purposeful, and multi-faceted process of education conducive to the lively, invigorating and sound development of children. With playing games as the main part of educational activities in kindergartens, a good environment should be created conducive to the education with conditions and opportunities offered to children to live and display their expressiveness.

To enhance the management and guidance of kindergartens, the state has formulated a series of regulations including ”Regulations on The Management of Kindergartens” and the ”Regulations on Kindergarten Work” placing the management of kindergartens on a scientifically sound and institutionalised basis.

The state has also formulated regulations and rules concerning the qualification of kindergarten teachers and the assessment of their performance. At present, the normal schools devoted to the training of kindergarten teachers and the discipline of pre-school education have made big strides and the training system of pre-school teachers at a considerable scale has taken shape.

Primary Education

In China, primary school education is compulsory and it lasts 6 years. In 2019, there were altogether 166,389 primary schools with an enrollment of 106,034,691 students. Children start schools at the age of six (or seven in some areas). The language of instruction is Mandarin Chinese except for the primary schools that mainly admit ethnic minority students. A typical school year is comprised of two semesters and runs from September to July. Students attend classes five days a week.

Primary school education currently includes nine compulsory courses, which are Chinese, Mathematics, Social Studies, Nature, Physical Education, Ideology and Morality, Music, Fine Art, and Labor Studies.

Foreign Language is normally offered as an elective course. In order to graduate, all students are required to pass graduation examinations in the subjects of Chinese and Mathematics. The examinations are normally designed and administered by the schools with guidance from local educational authorities. Students move on to three-year junior (lower) secondary schools, chuzhong (初中), after graduating from primary schools.

Middle Education

Junior (lower) secondary education lasts three years following the completion of primary school. For students to obtain a certificate of graduation, they are required to pass graduation examinations and meet minimum physical education standards. The graduation examinations are designed and administered by the individual schools according to guidelines set by the provincial educational bureaus or by local educational authorities. Students are typically examined in the following subjects for graduation: Chinese, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Foreign Language, and Politics. Completion of junior (lower) secondary education also marks the end of a nine-year (6+3) compulsory education program.

Secondary Education

In 2019, there were a total of 77,270 secondary education schools with an enrollment of 88,323,364 students in China.

After the completion of junior (lower) secondary school, students can choose to enter either general (academic) senior secondary school or vocational senior secondary school. General (academic) senior secondary school lasts three years and vocational senior secondary school lasts three or four years. Senior secondary school is known as gaozhong (高中) and vocational senior secondary school is known as zhongzhuan (中专) in China.

Students wishing to continue their studies in the general (academic) track must pass the entrance examinations for general senior secondary schools, which is also known as zhongkao (中考) in Chinese.

Designed and administered by provincial educational authorities, the entrance examination includes the same subjects as the junior secondary graduation examination. At the end of their final school year, graduates of senior secondary schools seeking admission to post-secondary education are required to take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, also called National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), commonly known as gaokao (高考) in China.

Higher Education

In 2019, there were altogether 2,688 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in China, among which 1,265 were universities, 257 were independent colleges and 1,423 were higher vocational colleges. There were also 268 higher education institutions for adults. In 2019, the total enrollment of undergraduates in the regular HEIs were 30,315,262. The total enrollment of postgraduate in the regular HEIs were 2,863,712. The total enrollment of adult higher education institutions was 6,685,603.

Higher education is further divided into two categories: 1) a great variety of universities that offer four-year or five-year undergraduate degrees to award academic degree qualifications; and 2) colleges that offer three-year diploma or certificate courses on both academic and vocational subjects. Postgraduate and doctoral programs are only offered at universities. Foreign students are welcome to enter all institutions of higher education in China.

Since the mid-1980s, higher education in China is no longer funded by the state, which is why the competition for scholarships is high. Thus, international students must prove themselves in this competitive environment, especially because more and more foreigners are enrolling at Chinese universities.

Aside from the usual undergraduate and graduate programs, scientific research is also an essential part of Chinese higher education. Various key laboratories, open research labs, and engineer research centres have been established by Chinese universities, and function as a driving force behind innovative new science and technology.

After School Clubs – One of the Special Features of the Chinese Education System

After-school education plays an important role in the all-round development of primary and secondary school students. Under the cooperative administration of departments in charge of education, culture, physics, workers union, the Communist Youth League, Committee for Women’s and Children’s Work and science and technology, after-school education is conducted by joint efforts of the concerning central departments.

After-school education always adheres to the policy of integration of schools, society and families, and strives to give a full scope to the unique educational role of after-school activities. After school, children may take part in scientific, cultural, and recreational activities organized by children’s clubs, scientific and technological centres for teenagers, and other similar institutions.

After-school education is conducted through rich and colourful extracurricular activities organized in the light of the age and interests of school children, such as stage performances, competitions of aircraft, ship and motor vehicle models, exhibitions of small inventions and handicraft making, literary writing, summer and winter camping and so on.