China Table of Contents
Secondary education in China has a complicated history. In the early 1960s, education planners followed a policy called "walking on two legs," which established both regular academic schools and separate technical schools for vocational training. The rapid expansion of secondary education during the Cultural Revolution created serious problems; because resources were spread too thinly, educational quality declined. Further, this expansion was limited to regular secondary schools; technical schools were closed during the Cultural Revolution because they were viewed as an attempt to provide inferior education to children of worker and peasant families. In the late 1970s, government and party representatives criticized what they termed the "unitary" approach of the 1960s, arguing that it ignored the need for two kinds of graduates: those with an academic education (college preparatory) and those with specialized technical education (vocational). Beginning in 1976 with the renewed emphasis on technical training, technical schools reopened, and their enrollments increased (as did those of key schools, also criticized during the Cultural Revolution). In the drive to spread vocational and technical education, regular secondary-school enrollments fell. By 1986 universal secondary education was part of the nine year compulsory education law that made primary education (six years) and junior-middle-school education (three years) mandatory. The desire to consolidate existing schools and to improve the quality of key middle schools was, however, under the education reform, more important than expanding enrollment.
Chinese secondary schools are called middle schools and are divided into junior and senior levels. In 1985 more than 104,000 middle schools (both regular and vocational) enrolled about 51 million students. Junior, or lower, middle schools offered a three year course of study, which students began at twelve years of age. Senior, or upper, middle schools offered a two or three year course, which students began at age fifteen.
The regular secondary-school year usually had two semesters, totaling nine months. In some rural areas, schools operated on a shift schedule to accommodate agricultural cycles. The academic curriculum consisted of Chinese, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, foreign language, history, geography, politics, physiology, music, fine arts, and physical education. Some middle schools also offered vocational subjects. There were thirty or thirty-one periods a week in addition to self-study and extracurricular activity. Thirty-eight percent of the curriculum at a junior middle school was in Chinese and mathematics, 16 percent in a foreign language. Fifty percent of the teaching at a senior middle school was in natural sciences and mathematics, 30 percent in Chinese and a foreign language.
Rural secondary education has undergone several transformations since 1980, when county-level administrative units closed some schools and took over certain schools run by the people's communes (see Glossary). In 1982 the communes were eliminated. In 1985 educational reform legislation officially placed rural secondary schools under local administration. There was a high dropout rate among rural students in general and among secondary students in particular, largely because of parental attitudes. All students, however, especially males, were encouraged to attend secondary school if it would lead to entrance to a college or university (still regarded as prestigious) and escape from village life.
In China a senior-middle-school graduate is considered an educated person, although middle schools are viewed as a training ground for colleges and universities. And, while middle-school students are offered the prospect of higher education, they are also confronted with the fact that university admission is limited. Middle schools are evaluated in terms of their success in sending graduates on for higher education, although efforts persist to educate young people to take a place in society as valued and skilled members of the work force.
Data as of July 1987
China Table of Contents