Home> Living > Education

China's education system

Updated: March 1, 2023

China's education system is composed of 4 components, i.e. basic education, occupational/polytechnic education, common higher education and adult education.

Basic Education

Basic education comprises of pre-school education, primary (6 years) and junior (3 years) and senior (3 years) middle schooling. Some argue that basic education should mean the K9 compulsory education covering primary and junior middle schooling duration.

Chinese government has always been listing basic education as one of its top priorities. Since 1986 when the Law of Compulsory Education of the People's Republic of China was promulgated, primary schooling has been prevailed in most areas in China, while junior middle schooling is being popularized in large cities and economically developed areas. Up to 1999, there were 582,300 primary schools countrywide with an enrollment of 135.5496 million; enrollment rate of school-age children reached 99.09%; five-year retention rate 92.48%; primary schooling prevailed in areas concentrating 91% of the total population; enrollment quotas of primary school graduates 94.3%. Moderate development was also witnessed in junior middle schooling countrywide.

By 1999, there were 64,400 common junior middle schools nationwide with admission of 21.8344 million and enrollment of 58.1165 million; gross enrollment rate 88.6%; enrollment quotas up to 50%. There were 14,100 common high schools nationwide with admission of 3,963,200 and enrollment of 10.4971 million. Up to 1998, there were 10,074 occupational middle schools nationwide with admission of 2.176 million and enrollment of 5.416 million.

In 1999, there were 1,520 special schools opened for deaf-mutes and mentally disabled children, with an enrollment of 371,600, or 13,200 above the previous year. More than half of the handicapped children had access to basic education. There were 181,110 kindergartens nationwide with an enrollment of 23.2626 million.

Medium-level Occupational and Polytechnic Education

Mainly composed of medium-level professional schools, polytechnic schools, occupational middle schools as well as short-term occupational and technical training programs of various forms.

Since 1980's, Chinese occupational and polytechnic education has experienced rapid development. Up to 1997, there were 33,464 occupational and polytechnic schools nationwide with an enrollment of 18.6976 million; more than 2,100 pre-employment training schools providing training for about 1 million people per year. Proportion of enrollment of high-school-equivalent occupational and polytechnic schools in total enrollment of high schools had increased from 18.9% in 1980 to 56.47% in 1999.

Up to 1999, there were 3,962 secondary technical schools nationwide with an enrollment of 5,155,000. As for the disciplinary structure, enrollment in finance and economics, sports and arts programs went up steadily, while that in technical subjects went down gradually. In 1999, there were 8,317 vocational senior middle schools nationwide with admission of 1,603,800 and enrollment of 4,438,400; 4,098 polytechnic schools with admission of 515,500 and enrollment of 1,560,500.

Common Higher Education

Common higher education comprises of junior college, bachelor, master and doctoral degree programs. Junior college program usually last 2~3 years; bachelor program 4 years (medical and some engineering and technical programs, 5 years); master program 2~3 years; doctoral program 3 years.

In five decades since 1949, China has made significant achievements in higher education. In 1981, China roadmapped a degree system composed of bachelor, master and doctor. Through waves of reform and restructuring, higher education in the country has been vitalized, scale expanded, structure upgraded, quality and efficiency improved, leading to a multilayered, diversified and discipline-inclusive higher education system accommodating the socio-economic development in the country, which is playing an important role in facilitating national economy construction, science and technology advance and social development.

Up to 1999, there were 1,071 common colleges and universities countrywide offering 2,754,500 seats to those applying for junior college and bachelor programs, 19,900 seats to those applying for doctoral programs and 72,300 seats to master program applicants, and accommodating 54,000 doctoral candidates and 179,500 master candidates. From 1979 through 1997, 829,100 people completed their junior college and bachelor programs with these colleges and universities, or 2.58 times of the total in 30 years prior to 1979. During the period from 1981 to 1996, colleges/universities and scientific research institutions nationwide granted doctoral degrees to 20,514 people and master degrees to 285,943 people. In 1996, the admission ratio of master to bachelor and junior college program was 1:16.26; junior college to bachelor program 1:0.91.

As for the admission structure of bachelor and junior college programs, an ascendant curve has been witnessed in areas of liberal, finance and economics, politics and law, sports and arts, amongst, the steepest in finance and economics subjects, while admission in science and engineering declined slightly.

In these colleges and universities, there are more than 3,400 research institutions approved by competent authorities; nearly 500 key programs established or under construction; 150 state-level key labs and specialized labs; a batch of engineering research centers under construction. Important outcomes have been achieved in basic, applied and hi-tech research programs undertaken by these colleges and universities. Of the award-winning natural science projects in China, some 50% were completed in these colleges and universities. Of the award-winning philosophy and social science programs completed in the "Eighth Five-Year-Plan" period, nearly 60% were led or implemented by these colleges and universities.

Adult Education

Adult education comprises of schooling education, anti-illiteracy education and other programs oriented to adult groups.

China's adult education has evolved rapidly since the Liberation. Up to 1999, there were 871 colleges and universities destined to adult education and some 800 correspondence-based and evening adult education programs launched by common colleges, offering 1,157,700 seats to those pursuing junior college and bachelor programs, and granting diploma to 888,200 people.

Of adult education schools targeted to farmers in 1998, there were 421 secondary technical schools with an enrollment of 200,200; 4,229 middle schools with an enrollment of 439,200; 454,924 technical schools that have provided training to more than 80 million people, or 12.2% of rural labor force. Adult education destined to peasants has made significant contribution to rural development by bringing up a large amount of primary and medium-level technical persons--up to present, more than 200 million farmers have received training in these education institutions.

Higher education examination program for self-taught has walked onto a track of rapid development. In 1998, there were 224 disciplines launched under this program. Up to the first half of 2000, accumulated registration for such examination has reached 104.04 million; more than 2.9 million people have got their junior college and bachelor degree, 401,500 people passed the secondary technical eligibility examinations under this program.

In 1998, some 134,200 anti-illiteracy schools (classes) were launched nationwide, bringing benefits to 3,208,900 illiterate persons.