Chinese Education System: Part 1


This week has been quiet. Many stores are still closed because of the Spring Festival, and the street vendors are just starting to reemerge on the sidewalk. We finished reading Harry Potter (1-7), so we have been trying to watch the movies. Since this has been a non-exciting week, I will take this chance to list some things I’ve learned about the Chinese education system.

  • Children start to go to state sponsored school very early—around age 3. Even at that age, they begin learning the English language.
  • When children start to go to Primary School, they begin to have two hours of homework per night. (Sometimes more.) Their parents must take a picture of the homework and send it to the teacher. If the parents don’t send it, the teacher will ask them about it on the public WeChat group for the class, therefore shaming them into doing so in front of the other parents.
  • Sometimes children in Primary school stay home from school on “Smog Days” which are like Snow Days without the snow. Except, these children have a whole day’s worth of school work to do. Their parents must send it to the teacher at multiple times during the day.
  • When children in Primary School take exams, the teacher will post the results in the public group so that all the parents know how their child did in comparison with the other children in the class.
  • Middle School and High School are usually together. The first three years are sometimes called Middle School while the last three are called High School. However, it is not unusual for a Chinese person’s transcripts to list a Middle School in the High School slot.
  • Don’t let the name Middle School fool you. Chinese High school is all consuming and highly competitive. Students attend class from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then they go home and do homework for hours.
  • I was told by a high school student who I tutor that after the ninth grade, students take a test. The ones who do well on the test (she said “the smart ones”) are filtered into the science and math track. The ones who do poorly (she said “the dumb ones”) go into the humanities. By the time students are seniors, there is no time for arts, sports, or any extracurricular activities.
  • The entire last year of high school, students prepare for the Gao Kao. This is the Chinese college entrance exam. It is only given once per year, so if a student doesn’t pass, they need wait another year to try again. They take several practice exams during the year to help them study to get the score they need to get into college. While the rest of the school takes time off for the National Holidays, the senior students might take one day when everyone else gets a week. Or they might have four days off over Spring Festival when everyone else takes three weeks. They don’t even get weekends off after October.
  • After student take the Gao Kao, they find out what college they got into, and they find out what the school says their major is. Since the Gao Kao is given in June, students find out where they are going to college in July. Then school starts in September.
  • Students who earn the very highest scores on the Gao Kao have some choice about where and what they study. A very bright son of one of my colleagues was allowed to choose his school, but his parents chose his major.

I will come back to this topic soon, and write about the University system as I understand it. Monday we leave on the train to visit Shenzhen and Hong Kong. I hope to have beautiful pictures to share next time.



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