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Expat Exchange - Educational System in China
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Beibu Gulf Square in Beihai, China


Educational System in China

By Joshua Wood, LPC

AGS Worldwide Movers
AGS Worldwide Movers

Summary: The one tip that you hear expats living in China repeatedly sharing with newcomers is not to buy a home when you first move to China. Rent for a few months or longer so that you have time to find the right neighborhood. Give yourself time to ensure that China is right for you for the long term. If you've already taken time to do those things and are ready to take the plunge and become a property owner, here are tips about buying a home in China.

China's educational system is one of the most rigorous and competitive in the world. It is state-run, with the government overseeing education at all levels, from pre-primary to tertiary. The system is divided into several stages, each with its own focus and objectives. For expats moving to China, understanding the structure and requirements of the Chinese educational system is crucial for ensuring a smooth transition for their children. This guide provides an overview of the main stages of education in China, enrollment procedures for newcomers, language requirements, availability of bilingual schools, common types of private schools, and the options for homeschooling and online schooling.

What are the main stages of education in China?

The Chinese educational system is divided into four main stages: pre-primary education, primary education, secondary education, and tertiary education. Pre-primary education is optional and typically includes kindergarten for children aged 3 to 6. Primary education lasts for six years, from ages 6 to 12, and is compulsory. Secondary education is divided into junior secondary (middle school) and senior secondary (high school), each lasting three years. Tertiary education includes undergraduate and postgraduate studies at universities and colleges.

Pre-primary Education

Pre-primary education in China, also known as kindergarten, is for children aged 3 to 6. It is not compulsory but is highly popular. Kindergartens focus on basic skills development, including language skills, social skills, and physical coordination. They also introduce children to basic concepts in math, science, and the arts.

Primary Education

Primary education in China is compulsory and lasts for six years, from ages 6 to 12. The curriculum includes Chinese language, mathematics, physical education, music, art, and social studies. English is also introduced at this stage. The focus is on building a strong foundation in basic academic skills and instilling discipline and respect for social norms.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in China is divided into junior secondary (middle school) and senior secondary (high school). Junior secondary education is compulsory and lasts for three years. The curriculum includes Chinese, mathematics, English, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, and physical education. Senior secondary education is not compulsory and lasts for three years. It is more specialized, with students choosing either a general academic track or a vocational track.

How does a newcomer from a different country enroll their kids in school?

Newcomers to China can enroll their children in local schools by providing the necessary documents, which typically include the child's passport, residence permit, and health certificate, as well as the parents' passports and work permits. The enrollment process may vary depending on the city and the specific school, so it is advisable to contact the school directly for detailed information.

Can children who are still learning Chinese enroll in a public school?

Yes, children who are still learning Chinese can enroll in public schools in China. However, they may face challenges as the medium of instruction in most public schools is Chinese. Some schools offer additional Chinese language support for non-native speakers, but this is not always the case.

Are there public bilingual schools?

Yes, there are public bilingual schools in China, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. These schools offer instruction in both Chinese and English, making them a popular choice for expats. Admission procedures vary, but typically require a language proficiency test and an interview.

What types of private schools are common in China?

Private schools in China include international schools, bilingual schools, and religious schools. International schools follow foreign curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate or the American, British, or Australian curriculum, and are popular among expats. Bilingual schools offer instruction in both Chinese and English. Religious schools, while less common, provide education in a faith-based environment.

Do expats typically send their children to public or private school?

Many expats in China choose to send their children to private schools, particularly international schools, due to the language barrier in public schools and the different teaching methodologies. However, some expats prefer public schools for their children to fully immerse in the Chinese culture and language.

How expensive are Private schools in China?

Private schools in China can be quite expensive, with tuition fees ranging from 20,000 to 250,000 RMB per year, depending on the school and the grade level. International schools tend to be the most expensive.

Are you allowed to homeschool while living in China?

Homeschooling is not officially recognized in China and is relatively rare. However, some expat families do choose to homeschool their children, often using online resources or hiring private tutors.

May kids attend online school instead of a local school while living in China?

Yes, children living in China can attend online schools. Many international online schools accept students from around the world, including China. However, it's important to ensure that the online school is accredited and that its credits will be recognized by universities or future schools.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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Beibu Gulf Square in Beihai, China

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