Primary and secondary education
Primary education lasts 6 years and is intended for children aged 6-12.
After primary education, students follow the 3-year lower secondary education at a junior middle school (初中 chuzhong). Then they are on average 15 years old and compulsory education has ended.
After completing an entrance examination, students can continue on to upper secondary education. Students can choose:
- general upper secondary education which is concluded with exams for the senior middle school graduation certificate; or
- vocational upper secondary education which is concluded with exams for the vocational senior middle school graduation certificate.
Senior middle school graduation certificate
Students follow the 3-year upper general secondary education at a senior middle school (高中 gaozhong). They conclude it with exams for the senior middle school graduation certificate.
- Duration: 3 years (after the 3-year lower secondary education).
- Content: compulsory subjects in 8 fields of study plus a combination of practical activities. The fields of study are language and literature, mathematics, technology, humanities and society, science, art and physical education and health. The practical activities are research-based learning activities, social service and social practice. Students must obtain a total of 144 credits, and their secondary education is closed off with a final examination, the so-called general ability test (see the explanation below). For further information on credits, see Assessment systems.
- Diploma: senior middle school graduation certificate (普通高中毕业证书 putong gaozhong biye zhengshu), also translated as general secondary education certificate.
General ability test
In 2002, the Ministry of Education decided to reform the curriculum. One of the decisions that was made was to gradually replace the final examination, the huikao exam, with a new test, the 学业水平考试 xueye shuiping kaoshi, which is usually translated into English as general ability test. Although the final examination is still often referred to as huikao.
By 2010, the system involving the general ability test had been rolled out nationwide. Each province offers several different types of examinations, e.g. the general ability basic huikao (学业水平测试, the 学业基础会考 xueye shuipin ceshi xueye jichu huikao) and, in Beijing alone, the modular test (模块考核 mokuai kaohe).
Students can choose to sit examinations in the following subjects: Chinese, mathematics, a foreign language, politics, history, geography, physics, chemistry, biology, art/music/fine arts, physical education and health, practical technology and computer sciences.
In their current form, final exams are held twice annually. Students who excel can sit the exams early, in the 2nd year of senior middle school, except for the 3 compulsory subjects: Chinese, mathematics and a foreign language. Exams in these subjects can only be sat in the 3rd year of senior middle school.
The final exam administered in Jiangsu is the exception
The education reform was implemented in the province of Jiangsu starting from autumn 2005, but without the following:
- the 3 compulsory subjects (Chinese, mathematics and a foreign language);
- art/music/fine arts, physical education and health and practical activities.
Students sit the exams for the 3 compulsory subjects during the gaokao exam (高考), the national entrance examination for higher education. Students' performance in art/music/fine arts, physical education and health and practical activities is assessed separately in the comprehensive quality assessment (综合素质评价 zonghe suzhi pingjia).
Vocational senior middle school graduation certificate
Instead of general upper secondary education, students can choose vocational upper secondary education. They follow vocational upper secondary education at a vocational senior middle school (中等专业学校 zhongdeng zhuanye xuexiao).
- Duration: 3 or 4 years.
- Content: mainly vocational subjects.
- Diploma: vocational senior middle school graduation certificate (中等专业毕业证书 zhongdeng zhuanye biye zhengshu). The diploma is also referred to as zhongzhuan diploma.