25 Surprising Facts About China’s Education System

If you think the administrators, school districts and government is cramping your teaching style, have you thought about what educators put up with in other countries? All school systems have a different dynamic, but China’s education system is especially unique. From preschool curriculum to vocational school to a new trend in adult education, here are 25 surprising facts about China’s education system.


Learn about China’s education history and its basic laws and regulations here.

  1. Before 1949, 80% of the Chinese population was illiterate: Before the People’s Republic of China was founded, nearly 80% of the 500 million people living in China were illiterate. During Mao Zedong’s rule, education became one of the government’s chief priorities and experienced great change during the Cultural Revolution.
  2. Chinese citizens must attend school for nine years: The public education system in China, governed by the Ministry of Education, states that all Chinese citizens must attend school for at least nine years.
  3. Chinese youth have a 99% literacy rate: UNICEF reports that from 2000-2007, Chinese youth ages 15-24 years old enjoyed a 99% literacy rate.
  4. China intends to match developed countries for supplies and school conditions by 2010: Though China’s primary and secondary schools are lacking in supplies and modern structures, they have created a special fund that will allow them to match the standards of well-developed countries by the year 2010.
  5. Private schools were not implemented until the 1980s: While private schools have been common in the United States for years, China did not allow private schools to operate until the early 1980s.
  6. Local governments and businesses oversee secondary education: High schools and upper middle schools are run by state and local governments as well as local business leaders.
  7. Senior-level middle schoolers or high schoolers must pay tuition: After completing the compulsory nine years of education, students who wish to continue in high school, or the senior-level middle school, must pay a small tuition fee.
  8. After-School Education: After-school education is an important aspect of the Chinese education system, and it is overseen by joint efforts between the Communist Youth League, Committee for Women’s and Children’s Work, and various departments in charge of education, technology, culture and more.

Layout and Grade-Specific

Discover the intricate layout of preschool, primary school and secondary school in this section.

  1. Preschool lasts three years: Chinese students often start preschool as young as three years old and do not enter elementary school until they are six.
  2. Preschool curriculum: Preschools and kindergartens put a lot of emphasis on training young children, since the Chinese believe that this time is crucial to personality development. Students are taught to play games, dance, sing, act and uphold the values of Truth, Kindness and Beauty.
  3. Middle school is split into two categories: Lower middle school students receive a basic academic education including foreign language, Chinese language and math, but after they graduate, they take a test to determine their vocational/technical path or another basic extension of traditional school in which students learn science and the humanities while preparing for university.
  4. High school lasts for three years: Chinese students receive primary or elementary school education for six or seven years, but are typically in middle school and high school for three years each.
  5. Vocational schools: Vocational schools train students to become medium-level workers like technical personnel, construction managers and farmers.
  6. Schools for Skilled Workers: These schools are set up to train junior middle school graduates in production and operations fields.
  7. Students must take a test to go to high school or vocational school: Those who do not pass the test effectively end their formal education.
  8. Preschool education in rural areas is still a work in progress: In China’s remote, aging communities, preschools and primary schools use alternative education options like game groups, activity centers and mobile aid centers to reach young children.
  9. Vacation: Primary schools have 13 weeks of vacations and holidays, junior secondary schools have 12 weeks, and senior secondary schools have 10-11 weeks of vacation and holidays.
  10. Junior Vocational Schools are mostly located in rural areas: Junior vocational schools, which prepare students to enter the labor market, are most often found in rural and disadvantaged communities.
  11. Special education: Gifted and special needs students were not addressed until the 1985 National Conference on Education. There are now 1,540 special education schools in China, plus special vocation training schools for special needs students.

Higher Education

College and graduate school enrollment has increased significantly in the last few decades. Learn how and why these changes are occurring below.

  1. College students apply through a central enrollment system: China’s Ministry of Education oversees all college applications.
  2. Each year, nearly half a million engineering students graduate from college: Wikipedia estimates that each year, 450,000 engineering students graduate from Chinese universities.
  3. Adult higher education programs have increased: In 2002, the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China reports, there were 607 higher education institutions (HEIs) for adults and over 2.2 million adults enrolled in unique higher education programs.
  4. Tuition changes: China used to cover the costs of college students, but a new system is evolving, in which students compete for scholarships and some students pay part of their tuition.
  5. Graduate education is a relatively new concept: As China plans to improve its economic status, more systems are put into place to support graduate education. Between 1990 and 1995, graduate education enrollment increased at an average annual rate of 9.3%.
  6. Between 1999 and 2004, college enrollment nearly quadrupled: In 1999, enrollment in higher education stood at 1.6 million, and in 2004, enrollment was up to 4.473 million students.
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