Education system in China

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In China, the education system is divided into nine years of compulsory education. The school system starts as follows:

  • Starting Age: Primary 6-7 years
  • Secondary 11-12 years
  • College: 16 years (

To enter school in China, one child per family can attend public schooling. However, in China, there are two types of school systems, public schools and private schools. The centralized governmental system oversees the private school system and allows the opening of different schools. Curriculum in the schools is varied in the techniques and methods used for teaching, as well as the standards of education offered since the private education system is allowed freedom to adjust its curriculum, aims and teaching methods to suit its client group. However, the end goal of the education system is for students to gain entry into the University system. Thus, despite the variety of schools which are available, according to Jing Lin:

Public schools still follow a centralized curriculum designed by the State Education Commission. Schools throughout the country use the same set of textbooks and teaching guidelines, and the curriculum serves mainly to prepare students for the National University Entrance exam which contains little practical content. (Lin 1999 p.40)

Public Education

There is ‘a dual track system’ in public education in China. This system is divided into ‘key’ schools and ‘ordinary’ schools. The formation of key schools was needed to accomplish two purposes, the first was to ‘quicken’ the pace of modernization in the country and the second was to ‘set up exemplary schools to improve teaching in all schools.’ In contrast with these schools, ordinary schools, have problems in lack of funding, teacher education and student selection.

While the goals of public and private schooling is for students to gain entry into higher education, the difference between both lies in the attention of private schooling to the needs for vocational and skills training to keep Chinese culture in line with global development.

Private Education

There are 7 types of private schools in Chinese education. These are:

  • Elite Private Primary and Secondary Schools
  • Urban/ Township Ordinary Private Secondary Schools
  • Vocational Technical Schools and Single Sex Schools
  • Rural Private Schools
  • Private schools set up by public schools
  • Private schools set up by government
  • Private universities

These types of schools differ in the curricula they provide to students, focusing on English language learning, computer skills and ‘with excellent learning and living conditions and a low teacher-student ration’ to schools which are ‘short in funding’ ‘teachers are generally over-aged, and there is a lack of standards in school administration’ (Lin 1999 p.12).

Achievement in Schools

The standards of school achievement vary between schools.

Primary Level: the schools ‘participate in mid-term and final exams organized by counties, school districts, cities, and provinces.

Secondary schools: In addition to mid-term and final exams, the success of students on passing the University Entrance Exam is a measure of the school’s quality.

Vocational and technical schools and universities: The measure for these schools is the ability of the students to gain entry into the job market. In addition there is ‘a state administered exam’ for students who study by themselves.


Hayhoe, Ruth (1984) Contemporary Chinese Education, London & Sydney: Croom Helm.

Kessen, William (ed.) (1975) Childhood in China. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Lin, Jing (1999) Social Transformation and Private Education in China, USA: Praeger Publishers.

Useful links

British Council
Basic education in China

China Through a Lens
Special Education and Vocational Education

China Today
This is a website with facts and figures about China. It has various search categories on various aspects of Chinese affairs, business, travel, culture etc.

Index-China: Education
Overview of Chinese education system