A good education has always been extremely appreciated in China, as the people believe that education ensures not only development of the individual but also the family and the country as a whole. Education has been highly valued in China since classical time, traditional Chinese philosophy emphasizes education above other values. This focus on learning continues to be important in Chinese society today; a high standard of education is associated with higher social status and the vast majority of parents have high expectations for the educational achievements of their children.
The People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. It has an area of 9.6 million square kilometers with two-thirds of the country covered in highlands or hill regions. Official data identifies 56 different ethnic groups in China, but one group, the Han, accounts for just over 90% of the population.
China’s Education System
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 other schooling systems, the Chinese school system emphasizes patriotism to the student's’ 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 preschool-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.
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.
Teaching and learning
Most Chinese schools’ students will be mostly learning through listening, note-taking and reading the textbook. Activities such as problem-solving, critical analysis, collecting evidence and experimentation are rare, and there is little emphasis on study skills in many schools. However, over recent years the government has been encouraging the use of new approaches which place the pupil at the center of classroom activity, with more interaction between staff and students, and use of new technology.
Twenty years ago there was a huge shortage of qualified teachers in China. Today, most teachers have had proper training and teachers manage to be younger most under 45 years old. Official pupil teacher ratios are favorable, 19:1 for primary schools, 17:1 for junior secondary schools and 18:1 for senior secondary schools. In urban areas, good quality schools known as key schools manage to generate funds by recruiting students from outside their school district and charging fees.
These key schools are able to attract good students and good teachers by paying them bonuses. A teacher in an urban school may earn three times the salary of a teacher in a rural province. These differences result in a massive flow of competent teachers from rural to urban schools. The biggest challenges for the education system in China today center around improving standards in rural schools and there are a number of innovative schemes to encourage pupil attendance and incentivize teachers to work in these institutions.