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China has the most extensive education system in the world. The Ministry of Education confirmed this in China years back.

Even though China’s emergence as one of the world’s most influential economies, relatively little is known in other countries about China’s education system or about how its students learn.[1]

China’s rapid social changes had an enormous global impact on international education. Both the massification of higher education and the swift emergence of a fast-expanding middle class have created a pool of hundreds of thousands of more affluent education consumers who can afford an overseas education and fueled an unprecedented outflow of Chinese international students.[2]

Education in China is divided into three categories

China’s own education system has simultaneously undergone an unprecedented expansion and modernization. It’s now the world’s largest education system after the number of tertiary students surged sixfold from just 7.4 million in 2000 to nearly 45 million in 2018, while the country’s tertiary gross enrollment rate spiked from 7.6 per cent to 50 per cent. By common definitions, China has now achieved universal participation in higher education.[2]

Education in China is divided into three categories: basic education, higher education, and adult education. Each child must have nine years of compulsory education from primary school (six years) to junior secondary education (three years).  Basic education in China includes pre-school education (usually enrol in pre-school at age two or three, and leave pre-school at the age of six), primary education, and secondary education.[3]

After finishing compulsory education, students can choose whether to continue with senior secondary education. Senior secondary education takes three years. There are five types of senior secondary schools in China: general senior secondary, technical or specialised secondary, adult secondary, vocational secondary and crafts schools. The last four are referred to as secondary vocational schools. Students undergo a public examination called Zhongkao before entering senior secondary schools, and admission depends on one’s score on this examination. The government uses examination results from Zhongkao to assign students to
different senior secondary schools. [1]

China has made significant efforts to expand participation in secondary vocational schools in recent years in order to meet the country’s fast-evolving economic and manpower needs. In 2014, secondary vocational schools accounted for a little less than 22% of total senior secondary school
enrolment in China. Although senior secondary education is not part of compulsory education in China, in 2014, 95% of junior secondary graduates
continued their study in senior secondary schools. [1]

The teachers in China

Traditionally, teaching has been a very respectable profession in China. In 1985, the government proclaimed 10 September a holiday – annual Teachers’ Day. In 1986, the Law on Compulsory Education pronounced
that the entire society should respect teachers. The Teachers Law was issued in October 1993. It codified protection for teachers’ rights and also clearly stated their responsibilities. Although teachers are moderately paid, their jobs are stable and they are entitled to good benefits, which makes the profession popular, especially in big cities. There are about 15 million full-time teachers in China now. Among them are 5.6 million primary school teachers and 3.5 million junior secondary school teachers, which is about 60% of the total number.[1]

The qualification system has undergone reform recently. In the new system, the teacher’s qualification examination is held nationally. Every certificate applicant has to pass the examination except the applicants for higher education. In the past, the examination was held at the provincial level mostly, and graduates from dedicated teacher training schools were allowed to skip the exam. Currently, there are separate examinations for
pre-school, primary, secondary and vocational education, all of which consist of two parts: the written examination and the interview. [1]

Chinese pupils using computer

China’s ed-tech

Educational technology companies are booming in China, propelled by artificial-intelligence-equipped startups, as students find online platforms a convenient way to keep learning during coronavirus restrictions. China’s ed-tech market is projected to expand 22% on the year to 423 billion yuan ($64 billion) in 2020, with users surging 23% to 331 million people, projects 100ec.cn. With the coronavirus lockdowns, “people have developed a habit of learning online,” said an education market insider. Remote learning also makes educational parity possible between students in far-flung farming villages and those in coastal cities.[4]

China has identified e-learning as a key direction for improving education across the country. Science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics (STEAM) classes along with K-12 constitute the largest segments of China’s EdTech market. There are currently large disparities when it comes to education inequalities. These are most obvious between urban youth and “left-behind children,” or children whose parents migrate to urban areas while they stay in the village or township with their relatives, who are usually uneducated grandparents. With this urban and rural divide in access to quality education, EdTech could be a “great equalizer” for a society built upon the Confucian principle of meritocracy.[5]


[1] EDUCATION IN CHINA, A Snapshot, OECD 2016

[2] WENR Mini Gu, Rachel Michael, Claire Zheng, and Stefan Trines,  December 2019.

[3] OpenLearn, 30th August 2019 

[4] Shin Watanabe: China’s education tech startups score new pupils in the pandemic.

[5] Layne Vandenberg: EdTech in Rural China, The Diplomat, December 01, 2020

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Lucubrate Magazine
Lucubrate Magazine

Lucubrate Magazine highlights trends in education and development. Development in this context can be technological, educational, individual, social or global, and everything related to education.
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