education system in china

China, with its rich history and vast cultural heritage, has become a global powerhouse not only in terms of its economy but also its education system. The Chinese education system has a unique set of characteristics that make it both fascinating and, at times, controversial. In this article, we will delve into various aspects of the education system in China, including the structure of the system, the length of school days, school rules, and the overarching goals of education.

PrimaryPrimary School1–66–126Primary education lasts 6 years and it is intended for children aged 6-12.
SecondaryJunior (Lower) Secondary School7–912–153Also known as chuzhong (初中)in China.
SecondarySenior (Upper) Secondary School10–1215–183After the completion of junior (lower) middle school, students can choose to enter either general (academic) senior secondary school or vocational senior secondary school. Vocational senior secondary programs last 3 or 4 years. Senior secondary school is known as (gaozhong 高中)and vocational senior secondary school is known as (zhongzhuan 中专) in China.
Post-secondaryShort Cycle (Zhuanke)13–1418–202–3
TertiaryBachelor’s Degrees13–1618–224Awarded upon completion of programs requiring 4 to 5 years of study, depending on the field of study. Also know as (xueshi xuewei 学士学位) in China.
TertiaryMaster’s Degrees17–1822–242–3Awarded upon completion of programs requiring 2 to 3 years of education, depending on the major field of study. Candidates may not be older than 35 years of age. Also known as (shuoshi xuewei 硕士学位) in China.
TertiaryDoctoral Degrees19–2124–273The completion of a master’s degree is required for admission to a doctoral program. Doctoral programs take 3 to 5 years to complete. It is also possible to take a combined master’s/doctoral program in which students are directly admitted to the doctoral programs upon completing the master’s program. Students are not awarded a master’s degree in the combined program and are awarded with a doctoral degree at the end of the program. This type of combined program is known as (shuobo liandu 硕博连读) in China.

Primary Education

In China, primary school education is compulsory and it lasts 6 years. Children start schools at age six (seven in some areas). The language of instruction is Mandarin Chinese with the exception of the primary schools that mainly admit ethnic minority students. A typical school year is comprised of two semesters and runs from the month of September to July. Students attend classes five days a week and primary school education currently includes nine compulsory courses, which include Chinese, Mathematics, Social Studies, Nature, Physical Education, Ideology and Morality, Music, Fine Art, and Labor Studies. Foreign Language is normally offered as an elective course. In order to graduate, all students are required to pass graduation examinations in the subjects of Chinese and Mathematics. The examinations are normally designed and administered by schools with guidance from local educational authorities. Students move on to 3-year junior (lower) secondary schools (chuzhong 初中) after graduating from primary schools. 

Middle Education

Junior (lower) secondary education lasts three years following the completion of primary school. In order for students to obtain a certificate of graduation, students are required to pass graduation examinations and meet minimum physical education standards. The graduation examinations are designed and administered by individual schools according to guidelines set by the provincial educational bureaus or by local educational authorities. Students are typically examined in the following subjects for graduation: Chinese, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Foreign Language, and Politics. Completion of junior (lower) secondary education also marks the end of a 9-year (6+3) compulsory education program. 

Secondary Education

After the completion of junior (lower) secondary school, students can choose to enter either general (academic) senior secondary school or vocational senior secondary school. General (academic) senior secondary school lasts 3 years and vocational senior secondary school lasts 3 or 4 years. Senior secondary school is known as (gaozhong 高中) and vocational senior secondary school is known as (zhongzhuan 中专) in China. Students wishing to continue their study in the general (academic) track must pass the entrance examinations for general senior secondary schools, which is also known as (zhongkao 中考) in China. Designed and administered by provincial educational authorities, the entrance examination includes the same subjects as the junior secondary graduation examination. At the end of their final school year, graduates of senior secondary schools seeking admission to post-secondary education are required to take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, also called National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), commonly known as (gaokao 高考) in China.

What is the Education System in China?

China’s education system is extensive and meticulously structured. It consists of several stages, each with its own specific curriculum and goals. The system can be broadly divided into three main levels:

  1. Compulsory Education:
    • Compulsory education in China spans nine years and includes six years of primary school and three years of junior secondary school. This stage is designed to provide students with fundamental knowledge and skills.
  2. Senior Secondary Education:
    • Following compulsory education, students enter a three-year senior secondary school program. During this stage, students prepare for the all-important college entrance examination known as the Gaokao.
  3. Higher Education:
    • Higher education in China includes universities and colleges, where students pursue bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The system is known for its rigorous academic standards and competitive entrance exams.

How Long is a School Day in China?

The length of a school day in China varies depending on the level of education. Generally, primary school students have shorter school days compared to secondary school and high school students. A typical school day may include the following schedule:

  • Primary School: Primary school students usually have classes from around 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with a break for lunch. In addition to regular classes, they often have extracurricular activities and homework to complete.
  • Junior and Senior Secondary School: Secondary school students have more extended school days, typically from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM. The extra time is dedicated to more specialized subjects and exam preparation.
  • High School: High school students, especially those preparing for the Gaokao, have exceptionally long school days. They often attend school from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM, with short breaks in between. This intense schedule is aimed at thorough preparation for the college entrance exam.

What Kinds of Rules do Schools in China Have?

Chinese schools are known for their strict rules and regulations. Some of the common rules and practices include:

  • Uniforms: Most students wear uniforms to school, which fosters a sense of equality and discipline.
  • Respect for Teachers: Chinese culture emphasizes deep respect for teachers, and students are expected to address their teachers with honorific titles.
  • No Mobile Phones: Many schools have policies that restrict or prohibit the use of mobile phones during school hours to ensure students’ focus on academics.
  • Homework and Exam Pressure: The education system places a strong emphasis on exams, and students often face tremendous pressure to excel academically.
  • Discipline and Obedience: Chinese schools typically maintain strict discipline, and students are expected to obey their teachers and school rules without question.

What Are the Aims of Education in China?

The education system in China is designed with several key objectives in mind:

  • Academic Excellence: The Chinese education system prioritizes academic excellence, aiming to produce students who perform exceptionally well in exams.
  • Cultural Preservation: Education in China also focuses on preserving and promoting traditional Chinese culture and values.
  • Global Competitiveness: In recent years, China has aimed to make its education system more globally competitive, with a focus on science and technology.
  • Character Education: The system seeks to instill good character and moral values in students, including qualities like respect, responsibility, and honesty.
  • Social Mobility: Education is seen as a means for social mobility, enabling individuals to improve their socioeconomic status through academic achievement.


The Chinese education system, with its unique characteristics, reflects a blend of tradition, discipline, and modernization. While it has produced excellent academic results and contributed to China’s rapid development, it has also been a subject of debate and criticism due to its intensity and the pressure it places on students. Understanding the Chinese education system and its goals is essential to appreciate the role education plays in shaping the future of one of the world’s most populous and influential countries

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