A little insight on Chinese schools


This post is for my wonderful niece A who allows me to use her room when I visit. She wanted to know what Chinese schools are like. I asked Ben a few questions and he was more than happy to answer.

The school day starts at 7:30. The students have until 8:00 to read. They are not being taught, they are just expected to read and study. Morning classes are from 8-12 and last about 45 minutes each.  They study math, history, science, Chinese, and English. The subjects are similar to American schools.

Students have lunch from 12-2. If you live close you can go home to eat and rest. If not, you stay at school and eat at the cafeteria from 12-1 and are expected to nap from 1-2. No kidding! You sleep or at least try to. There is no talking. If you attend a good school they have beds for you, otherwise you sleep on tables, benches, or any flat surface you can find.

Afternoon classes are from 2-4. From 4-5 the students then have something similar to a study hall. They read and study what they were taught during the day. There are teachers present so if a student has a question that is the time to ask. In high school the study hall goes from 4-6. They have one hour for dinner and go back to classes from 7-9 or 9:30!!! In high school, there are usually classes on the weekend. Ben said it’s like overtime. 🙂

Homework is given and usually takes 1-2 hours to complete. I have heard and read though that homework in China is becoming a problem because they are given so much. My Chinese teacher told me that when she was in 3rd grade her mother complained to the school because she was regularly given homework that took 3-4 hours to complete. She had homework one night until midnight and still wasn’t finished!

They do not study music or art in school. If they want to do that they can do it in the afternoon during the “study hall” time and it’s not at the school. They make their own arrangements. They have to have permission and the cost is their own. The school does not provide that for them. If a child is very good they can go to an art or music school. It’s like the US where there are special schools for special talents or interests.

Transportation is not usually provided. Most parents or grandparents take younger kids to school. When they are about 10-12 years old they walk to school, ride their bikes, or take public transportation. A lot of kids in rural China  live far from their school so they end up staying during the week and going home on weekends. We saw a school like that when we were going to the Great Wall. It was very isolated and the school had to have dorms for kids that didn’t live in the village.

As in the US, there are some schools that are better than others. You can only go to the school where  you’re registered to live. If the school isn’t a good one, parents that can afford it will buy an apartment in the good school area to get the ID so that their child can attend.

Chinese students usually work very hard in school. Most of them want to go to university and to get into the best you must have top grades. Competition is very tough for spots at the top colleges. I read an article in the paper a few weeks ago about schools that were illegally holding classes during the Chinese New Year break.  I guess there is so much pressure for students to go to college that secondary schools were using the opportunity to teach during the vacation time. This did not sit well with the government and they shut them down when possible. One mother that was interviewed was upset that  her daughter’s school was closed. She said that this gave the students who were able to continue classes during the break an unfair advantage and she was going to have to find another option for her daughter.

So Ben’s high school experience, 20 years ago, went like this. He was chosen to play water polo in high school. His parents do not live in GZ city, they live outside so he stayed at the GZ school during the week. He rode his bike home on Friday and back to school on Sunday. I don’t know how far it is exactly because he told me this a long time ago but I think it’s about 20 miles. He left the school at 4AM  to go to the pool for 2 hours of training and then went to classes in the morning. The pool and the school are about 5-7 miles away from each other. He rode his bike to and from the pool. He had class in the afternoon but did not stay for the study hall part because he was back in the pool for training. Then he returned to school at night for dinner and homework. It started all over again the next day at 4AM. Every day he rode his bike back and forth between school and pool 2 times for 4 hours of pool training and 6 hours of classes! I can only imagine how much food he used to eat. He told me that his coach had to complain to the school to give them more food because they didn’t get enough. He also told Andrew and me that he and  his teammates used to go to a farmer’s orchard and steal fruit. They never got caught. He had quite the twinkle in his eye when he told us that. All of this work paid off though because the GZ Under 18 water polo team was #1 in China the 3 years he was on it.

So A, I hope this answers your questions about Chinese schools. Want to come live with me and you can learn first-hand what it’s like? 😉 You know I’d love it.


About vikarenously

I am an ex-pat living in Guangzhou, China. I am married to the man of my dreams who has indulged my love of travel by working hard enough to snag two international assignments. Oh yes, I also have two amazing children who accompanied us on our first one to Switzerland and are now mature and responsible adults which makes it so easy for us to experience this adventure as empty-nesters. Experience it vicariously with Karen.

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