The education in China has been affected by the deep changes that the society has experienced in the last years. The education is one of the main worries of Chinese parents, since the growing number of educated people has increased the competitiveness at all stages of the educational system and in the job market. This, along the one child policy that makes the only child the object of all hopes and desires of his parents, makes the Chinese schools a battlefield for being the best.
The top educational authority in China is the Ministry of Education who began to allow privates schools in the early 1980s. The education system is divided in three stages: basic, middle and high education.
It is all but unheard of for any expat family to send their children into the Chinese school system. Instead they opt for one of the highly-regarded international schools. Please refer to that section for more information.
- Kindergartner. In China the availability of preschool centers – for kids from one to three years old – is very limited and of low quality. In Shanghai, however, there already exist many good kindergartners which fulfill Western standards.
- Primary school is for children from 6 to 12 years old. It is compulsory and upon completion, students must pass an exam (95% of approval rate) to pass to the next stage. Depending on the score, they will attend either a first or second tier secondary school.
- Junior secondary is for 13 to 15 years old. The scholar year, in primary and secondary, is 38-40 weeks divided in two semesters.
- Senior secondary is for 16 to 18 years old. This stage, contrary to the previous junior secondary, is not compulsory and the students must pass an exam to access it. Around 60% reach this stage.
- Junior secondary vocational education was conceived to form qualified blue collar workers and is very common in rural areas. It is for the 16 to 18 year olds who do not want, or did not pass the exam, to attend senior secondary.
- University. Since 1999 the Ministry of Education has developed a reform to allow more flexibility and autonomy of each university and the creation of private ones. To access a university, every student must do the Gaokao, considered one of the most complex exams in the world. In 2010, 9.57 million students competed for 6.5 million university placements. The scholar year is 40 weeks divided in two semesters.
- Senior secondary vocational education and tertiary education. Is the natural step after the junior secondary vocational education and forms highly specialized workers.
The growing number of educated people pushes Chinese students to attend many extra lessons in private schools to increase their chances of finding a job (in 2010, 32% of university graduates are unemployed a year after finishing their studies). The most common activities are language courses, business schools and computer skills courses.