The Compulsory Education
The Compulsory Education Law stipulates that each child have nine years of formal education; it stands out as follows:
1.Not compulsory pre-school education for the children of more than 3 years (during three years);
2.Primary education -six years- centred on subjects such as Chinese, Maths, History, Geography, Science, etc. There is also a certain level of elementary political and moral education. A strong accent is also placed on Physical Education;
3.Secondary school (Junior) is actually a continuation of the primary scheme, the same core subjects at higher levels with a highlighting on sports and physical education, next to moral and political education. At the end of the three years, all students take an examination which for successful pupils leads to senior middle school or vocational school. These examinations are considered to be very important as the pass level determines the quality of senior or vocational school into which the students may be accepted;
4.In Senior Middle school, students elect whether to follow science or humanities curricula. These courses are designed to lead to the important National College Entrance Exams. Again sport and political education are part of the curriculum.
5. Higher education (beyond 18 years): Whatever type of higher education students wish to undertake, they must first take the National College Entrance Exam. There are separate exams for science and humanities candidates. University and College admission is administered nationally and by admissions committees at provincial level, under the Ministry of Education. Students apply for the institution and departments they wish to attend, listing choices in order of preference. Admission is decided mainly on the results of the entrance exams, but can also include an investigation into the candidates' "social behaviour and moral character."
There are factually hundreds of universities in China which in fact differ in the level and quality of education. At the top of the pecking order are the “key” universities such as Beijing University and Shanghai's Fudan University comparable to western universities in quality.
Below these are various provincial and local institutions which have been awarded the title of university. Somewhat confusingly, there are also a large number of "normal" universities. These are teacher training universities.
In addition to the universities, there are colleges, offering two or three year diploma courses in various vocational subjects. There are also “normal colleges” which again are teacher training establishments. Many, if not all of these, aspire to be upgraded to “university” status.
Choices for Most Families
The general secondary formation of the 2 cycle has the preference of families because it opens to higher education for those who pass the entrance exam of admission to the university (gaokao). It is moreover centred almost exclusively on the preparation of this examination. At the university, the access of license (Bachelor's degree) in Master's degree, as that of the Master's degree in doctorate, is conditioned by the success of a very selective assessment. An important sector of adult education is present at the secondary and high level.
From 1995, date at which was published the law on the education fixing the main lines of the reform of the education, the percentage of children in full-time education in primary school and in college increased regularly. The percentage of children in full-time education in nursery school progresses regularly but remains still low. The step forward in favour of the obligatory education of nine years is clear.
Since 1999, the authorities stressed their efforts in favour of high schools and of superior-higher education and in 2006, about 8.8 million candidates presented the gaokao with a rate of admission close to 50 %.