Although considered as one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, China’s earliest history is clouded by the lack of any formalized, written documentation. Adding to the lack of a detailed history is the fact that documents from later time periods attributed information to an era that occurred many centuries before. The time elapsed blurred fact from fiction. Mostly from archaeological data, the emerging Chinese culture could have existed as far back as the 16th century BC.
A formalized system of writing was imposed by the Qin Dynasty Emperor in the 3rd Century BC. One hundred years later, the development of a state ideology, based on Confucianism, was created and this occurrence set the foundation for what is now termed the Chinese civilization. The Chinese Culture of today has evolved over the years through the assimilation of conquerors and other immigrant groups.
This was facilitated by China’s location in Eastern and Southern Asia and its size of approximately 3,705,000 square miles. China borders 16 countries from Afghanistan to Vietnam and is the most populous country in the world with about 1.3 billion people.
Before the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, basic education was extremely backward. One of the newly-emerged government’s initial direction was to eliminate illiteracy and to foster the idea of compulsory education. At that time, only about 20% of school-aged children were enrolled and 80% of all adults were illiterate. Today, illiteracy among the young and middle-aged population has decreased to less than 5%.
In 1985, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party issued the “Decision of the Reform of the Education System” which led to the “Compulsory Education Law” in the following year. A 6-3-3 system (6 years primary, 3 years lower-middle and 3 years upper-middle) was established; formal schooling through lower-middle school completes the 9 years of compulsory education. At least 90% of the country’s population has completed compulsory education.
Education in China underwent more reforms during the 1990s. In 1994, the National People’s Congress passed the “Education Law of the People’s Republic of China” outlining the direction and policies of Chinese education into the early years of the 21st Century. As a result, education in China has developed rapidly in the past ten years. The key to the growth of education in China is primarily due to increased national investment. Since 1998, the funds allocated to education have grown one percentage-point annually, and in 2003, the national government fund for education was 349.14 billion Yuan, about 44 billion U.S. dollars.
Currently, education in China is overseen by the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China. China leads the world in the number of students it sends to other countries for education. Since 1979, 582,000 Chinese students have studied in 103 countries.
Schools operate on a semester calendar and the academic year runs September through June.
Primary education lasts for six years.
Secondary school is divided into Lower Middle School lasting three years, and Upper Middle School lasting three years. Lower Middle School is also called Lower Secondary School or Junior Middle School and they are all equivalent to the US Junior High School. Upon completion of Lower Middle School, students are awarded with the Lower Middle School Graduation Certificate.
Upper Middle School is sometimes called Upper Secondary School or Senior Middle School and they are equivalent to the US (Senior) High School. Having completed Upper Middle School, students receive their Upper Middle School Graduation Certificate. Access to higher education is based on the Senior High School Graduation Diploma and a very competitive National Matriculation Test.
First and Second Cycles, Academic
University level first stage study leads to a Bachelor's degree normally after four years of study. University level second stage leads to a Master Degree after two to three years' study following a Bachelor's Degree and the taking of the National Entrance Test for MA/MS candidates, and the defense of a thesis.
There are two different certificates in most cases; graduation certificate and degree certificate. The graduation certificate (Zhuanke or Benke) is given when the required coursework is completed. The degree certificate, on the other hand, is awarded when all other requirements such as foreign language requirements, a thesis requirement, etc. are met in addition to the coursework required for the program. When reviewing credentials for admission, both documents should be requested, if not presented.
First and Second Cycles, Vocational/Technical
Non-university level post-secondary education aims at enabling students to master the basic theory and knowledge and acquiring the basic skills and initial capability for the practical work of their specialty. Students following these courses - provided at university, vocational college or university of adult education - will be conferred diplomas or certificates of graduation. The courses last between two and three years.
University level third stage aims at enabling students to master firm and broad basic theory, systematic and in-depth knowledge, skills and techniques and acquiring capabilities for independent creative scientific research work in their field. Students following these courses are conferred a Doctor's Degree after three to four years' study following a Master's Degree and the taking of the National Entrance Test for PhD candidates, and the defense of a dissertation.
Primary teachers are trained in junior teacher training schools where they follow 3-to 4-year courses. Secondary teachers are trained at teachers' training colleges or universities where they follow a 3- to 4-year course.