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Changes Young People Want in Education: China

As a part of the United Nations Asia and the Pacific Report on Youth Opinion Poll, carried out from April to June this year, we asked young people between 15 and 29 years old living in the Asia-Pacific region, “If you were the head of government of your country, what changes would you make about education in your country?” In this issue and the next issues of Education Policy Matters!, we would like to share with you a glimpse of the responses we received from different countries in the region. This month, we take a look at the responses from China.

731 respondents from China participated in the survey conducted in Chinese. Among them, 43 percent and 33 percent were aged 20-24 and 25-29 respectively, with the remaining below the age of 20. 68 percent of the respondents were female, 31.5 percent male, and 0.5 percent transgender. 61 percent were bachelor’s degree holders and 14 percent were master’s degree holders while the other 19 percent were high school graduates.

Most respondents gave two responses to the question about what changes they would make about education in China. Many suggested abolishing or reforming the Chinese National Higher Education Entrance Examination (gaokao). This examination is held annually in the entire country as a prerequisite for entrance into almost all higher education institutions at the undergraduate level. This high-stake examination is often criticized because of the tremendous pressure exerted on teachers and students in the preparation for the examination. In particular, cramming, which focuses on rote memorization and learning to the test, is very common in the Chinese education system.  
Because of gaokao, schools mainly focus on teaching and learning the kind of knowledge relevant to the examination syllabi. As students’ time is spent mostly on learning to the test, schools usually do not provide enough practical training to prepare them for their work after graduation. A number of respondents said that the introduction of more practical curricula would be essential and useful to equip them with necessary skills for their future work.

Additionally, some respondents considered it important to put more emphasis on “essential-qualities” oriented education. In the Chinese culture, “essential qualities” of a person entail moral qualities, intellectual ability, physical fitness and aesthetic appreciation. In this sense, it can be understood that these respondents would like the kind of education that promotes the all-round development of a person instead of that which is geared merely toward academic achievement.

Another aspect that many respondents are concerned about is equity/equality. While China has achieved remarkable economic prosperity over the previous decades, this has come at the expense of an equal and equitable distribution of educational opportunities across the country. Significant gaps exist in educational development between eastern, central, and western parts of China, with the latter facing a number of challenges such as a shortage of funding and the low quality of education, leading to inequality in educational opportunities in different regions. In addition, due to the household registration (hukou) system, it is hard for rural residents to gain permanent residence status in cities and they are thus not entitled to the same benefits that urban counterparts enjoy in terms of schooling, resulting in rural-urban disparities. Apart from these, the hukou system has restricted students from taking gaokao in the schools outside the area where they hold a local hukou. If they do not have a local hukou, they would need to travel to wherever their household is registered and take the examination there. While this restriction was loosened in a few provinces in China in 2013, a number of respondents suggested a further reform of this hukou system. Some other respondents found it important to address education inequity/inequality through a more active involvement of the central government, including better resource allocation for education across the nation.

For more information, please contact Ushio Miura [u.miura(at)] at the Education Policy and Reform Unit.

Written by Kar Hung Antony Tam [kh.tam(at)]
Related Links:

• UN Asia and the Pacific Report on Youth

• Asia-Pacific Regional Education Conference

• Education Beyond 2015