How does China’s education system work?

Education is a fundamentally important part of Chinese society. 

Chinese parents want their children to have a good education and to study hard. In fact, many parents place a lot of pressure on students to get good grades.

From a very young age, usually the first year of primary school, students start learning English. 

Wealthier parents put their children in before- or after-school private centers, to ‘maximise’ their child’s English-speaking ability.

These centers, also known as private language institutes, have a much better student-teacher ratio than the public system. That means the students have more exposure to a foreign English teacher.

In comparison, public schools in China can have up to 50 students in each classroom. Students will have varying abilities, though schools may ‘group’ students into different classes the best they can.

There is a big divide between rich and poor in China, and unfortunately the education system is not immune to this.

What’s the ‘gao kao’?

The gao kao is the final exam that all Chinese high school students undergo. For most students it’s a stressful time because the results can determine their future.

For the subject of English, students are tested on their reading, writing and listening ability, but not their spoken ability.

Students who get excellent grades and wish to study at university may be able to choose what they study and the institution they attend, while less fortunate students may have fewer options and be forced to move far away from home and attend a less prestigious university.

Studying overseas is an increasingly popular option for smart students (and whose parents have the money).

By the time students attend university, their spoken English is usually quite average, having been forced to focus on reading and writing for the bulk of their learning.

What’s it like being an English teacher in China?

Teaching is a respected profession in China, probably more so than in many Western countries.

Particularly in primary, middle and high school, teachers are quite strict. They generally don’t smile at their students and disciplinary action for unruly students is commonplace.

This doesn’t mean that you have to teach in the same way, but you need to keep in mind that this may be the only style of teaching that Chinese students know.

In Chinese universities, classrooms tend to be more relaxed and managing student behavior will be less of an issue. Some students, however, may be in your class because it is a compulsory subject in their course. That's why it's important to deliver interesting and engaging lessons.