It has taken me couple months to fully grasp what it means to grow up in the Chinese educational system. While it has some similarities to the American system, there are stark differences. Let me give everyone a brief rundown of what the system looks like at a glance.
When a baby is born, parents will start looking around for the proper school for their child to attend. Finding the right school is a very serious business in Beijing. Even though the child won’t start school for another three years, parents must consider the best place to live in order for their child to attend a good school. Even if the parents move into a district near a good school, it isn’t guaranteed that their children will get into that school. And so begins the waiting list.
I was recently talking to the sales manager of my center, who is Chinese, and he said his daughter is 18 months old yet they have already been put on the waitlist for a top-tier public school. I briefly asked him if private schools were an option and then he told me that the Chinese private school system and the American private school system are very different. In China, the private schools aren’t as good as the public schools and usually parents use private schools as a last resort for their children. He then went on to explain that the best option of all is sending your child to an international school. However, sending a Chinese child to an international school usually requires a Chinese student to have dual citizenship.
Once children have started school, they go through different phases of testing throughout their years. First there is the kaoshi. This test graduates a child from lower school to high school.Then there is the zhongkao which allows a child to graduate from high school and attend college. The zhongkao is a rigorous test. Teenagers spend more hours than one could imagine studying for this test. It’s like the SAT on steroids. I was told by my colleagues that during the week the Zhongkao is administered in Beijing, the streets are early quiet and policemen actually enforce a quiet rule in neighborhoods. Students have two opportunities to take the test and if they don’t pass then parents consider other options for their children. Some parents may send their children to a vocational school, some may start working straight out of highschool, some may try to send their children abroad for college and so on.
The best universities in China are in Beijing. Beijing natives have an advantage of university options as compared to people f applying from other towns. So, applicants applying to other schools from other regions already have the odds against them. It becomes a cut throat competition to see which students will get into a Beijing university from another town. Sometimes when an applicant from a small town or village gets into a Beijing university, the whole town will throw them a huge party or even pull together expenses to pay for their tuition. Unlike the American system, where the burden of college costs primarily falls on the parents, the extended family will help the student with their college costs. Education is considered the best way to escape some of the harsher realities of the countryside. If you haven’t guessed thus far, the main reason that the education system is cut throat in China is due to the reality of overpopulation. There simply aren’t enough spots available for everyone. I admire some of my students who are not only enrolled in a rigorous college curriculum, but who also find the time to come learn English at EF. Their determination to succeed is truly admirable.
I just want to end this post with an interesting statistic. 1 in every 6 people in this world is from China. Let that simmer in your mind.