China has the largest education system in the world…

With almost 260 million students and over 15 million teachers in about 514 000 schools (2014), excluding graduate education institutions, China’s education system is immense and diverse.

Education is largely state-run, with little involvement of private providers in the school sector, and increasingly decentralised. County-level governments have primary responsibility of the governing and delivery of school education, and provincial authorities administer higher education institutions.

More recently the Ministry of Education has shifted from direct control to macro-level monitoring of the education system. It steers reform via laws, plans, budget allocation, information services, policy guidance and administrative means.

The Ministry of Education


The Ministry of Education of People’s Republic of China is the agency of the State Council that oversees education throughout the country. State Council is the chief administrative authority in China and is chaired by the Premier. It is responsible for carrying out the policies of the Communist Party of China as well as the regulations and laws adopted by the National People’s Congress.

Value of Education


The Chinese government places a high value on education, as the basis of national development and modernisation. The government uses laws and regulations to protect access to education, and to guarantee high-quality education. The Ministry of Education often drafts these laws, and submits them for approval by the National People’s Congress. Once approved, the State Council enacts the law. Finally, the National People’s Congress formalises local policies and implementation measures.

The Law on Compulsory Education, 1986, was a milestone for China. According to this law, all school-age children have the right to receive compulsory education, and parents are responsible for enrolling their children in school and making sure they finish nine years of compulsory schooling. This law established a comprehensive system, and described rules for schools, teachers, teaching and learning, as well as education financing and the legal responsibilities of social sectors. In 2006 the law was revised so that students in compulsory education are exempted from tuition fees.



In China, education is broadly divided in to 2 categories: basic education and higher education. By law, each child must have nine years of compulsory education from primary school (six years) to junior secondary education (three years).

Basic Education:

Basic education includes pre-school education for 3 years, primary education for 6 years and secondary education for 6 years.

Secondary education has two routes: academic secondary education and specialized/vocational/technical secondary education. Academic secondary education consists of Junior Middle School (three years) and Senior Middle Schools (aka High Schools, three years).

Junior middle school graduates wishing to continue their education take a locally administered entrance exam, on the basis of which they will have the option of either continuing in an academic senior middle school, or to enter a vocational middle school to receive two to four years of training. Alternatively, they leave school at this point.

Senior middle school graduates wishing to go to universities must take National Higher Education Entrance Exam (Gao Kao). According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, in June 2015 nearly 9.5 million students took the exam!

Due to great competitiveness to get into good universities, the pressure to do well for Gao Kao is intense. Many schools hold extra morning classes in science and math for three to four hours on Saturdays, and if not parents send their children to expensive revision school or organise one-to-one private tuition over the weekend.

China’s Public Education System

Higher Education:

Higher education is further divided into two categories: 1) universities that offer four-year or five-year undergraduate degrees to award academic degree qualifications; and 2) colleges that offer three-year diploma or certificate courses on both academic and vocational subjects.

Postgraduate and doctoral programmes are only offered at universities.

Further Reading


Education in China – A Snapshot, published by the OECD

Web link: https://www.oecd.org/china/Education-in-China-a-snapshot.pdf