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China’s Education System

A boy wearing a white shirt and red necktie speaks in front of a classroom of his fellow students

The Primary Years

China’s educational laws mandate that children attend primary school for six years, beginning at the age of six. Like in the U.S., the school week is five days long, and there are nine-and-a-half months of school per year, with a summer vacation in July and August.

In urban areas, pre-school education mainly consists of three years of kindergarten, a portion of which might be part-time or take place at a boarding school. In rural areas of China, pre-school education often includes nursery classes and seasonal-based kindergarten programs.

A typical primary school curriculum includes Mandarin, math, physical education, science, music, art and one foreign language—often English or Japanese. The Chinese education system also stresses the importance of morals and values such as teamwork and respect, as well as loyalty to the Communist Party. Like in the American school system, the Chinese school system emphasizes patriotism to the students’ country as well. A typical school day might start with morning physical exercises and end with after-school activities—cultural, recreational and community-oriented—run by the government-sponsored Young Pioneers.

Boarding Schools and Residential Education

Some modern working parents in China choose to enroll their pre-school-aged children in residential boarding schools, where they are guaranteed childcare as well as early education and socialization. Such residential programs might feature children’s dormitories near classrooms, and schedules that allow 24-hour routines such as mid-morning snacks and nighttime bathroom breaks.

In these boarding school environments, children as young as three years old learn skills such as cooperation and sharing. American pre-schools, in contrast, often emphasize traits such as competition, self-expression and individualism and place a higher importance on personal possessions. These contrasts illustrate how educational systems reflect the cultures and societies that they serve.

Higher Education

After primary school, compulsory education in China includes three years of middle or secondary school. Middle schools consist of a three-year junior level, which students start at 12 years of age, and a two- or three-year senior level, which starts at age 15. Senior level attendance is not mandatory.

After finishing their junior level of middle school, students must take an examination that determines what senior middle schools they are qualified to attend. Admission to high-ranking senior schools is very competitive, and the entrance examination results are considered crucial.

In senior middle school, students choose to focus on humanities or science. The senior curriculum involves preparation for the National College Entrance Exam, which determines university and college admission.


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