The Chinese School System: a model system we should all copy?

23 Feb

UK’s Education minister Elizabeth Truss is to visit China to learn about China’s education system, what makes it “successful” and ultimately, what the UK can take from it to improve its own effectiveness (Kaiman, 2014). But why have we assumed that China has the model school system we could learn a lot from?

OECD released a report revealing 2012 results for its Programme for International Student Assessment test where 15 year old students from 65 countries took reading, maths and science exams. China, in particular, Shanghai led the rankings whilst the UK came 26th (Kaiman, 2014).  It is clear that China’s education system is indeed successful, but what makes it so effective?

A reason why China’s education system is so successful is because of the emphasis placed by society on achieving good grades at school. This intense pressure on students leads them to take extreme measures to deliver top performances. For instance, some Chinese high school students resorted to “intravenous amino acid drips” in 2012 whilst studying for their college admission exam – this exam lasting 9 hours (Guardian, 2012). There have also been students who have committed suicide over not completing homework (Kaiman, 2014).

Further to this, Chinese students are also expected to complete extracurricular activities (also called ‘cramming’) such as calligraphy, ping pong, learning how to play the piano etc. as well as completing homework after school (Kiaman, 2014). This all demonstrates that China’s standards are very high when it comes to academic and personal achievement in line with Confucianism – being the best person you can be. These expectations are more on the idealistic side as opposed to being realistic, but is this a bad thing? We cannot deny that China’s economic growth rates have been phenomenal over the years, after all – and it is a result of China’s incredible work ethic.

However, many Chinese experts are not as impressed by China’s education system. Lao Kaisheng of Beijing Normal University says “The education system here puts a heavy emphasis on rote memorisation, which is great for students’ test-taking ability but not for their problem-solving and leadership abilities or their interpersonal skills” (Kaiman, 2014). The Chinese government does identify these issues and has provided guidelines to schools to focus on not just test scores but “moral development, citizenship and ambition” too (Kaiman, 2014). This is something the UK actually has a stronghold in so Truss should keep this in mind when visiting China next week.


Kaiman, J. (2014). “Nine hour tests and lots of pressure: welcome to the Chinese school system”, The Guardian [online].  [Accessed 23 February 2014]

The Telegraph (2012). “Students hooked up to drips in China ahead of university entrance exams”, The Telegraph [online]. [Accessed 23 February 2014]


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