China's education system is divided into 4 categories: basic education, occupational/polytechnic education, higher education and adult education.
Basic education consists of pre-school education, primary (6 years) and junior (3 years) and senior (3 years) middle school.
The Chinese government has always viewed basic education as one of its top priorities. Since 1986, when the Law of Compulsory Education of the People's Republic of China was promulgated, primary schooling has become available in most areas in China, while junior middle schooling has become widely available in large cities and economically developed areas. In 1999, the enrollment rate of school-age children reached 99.09% - 135.5 million children - and there were 582,300 primary schools around the country.
Also in 1999, there were 64,400 common junior middle schools around China, with enrollment of 58.1 million pupils. There were also 14,100 common high schools nationwide with an enrollment of 10.4 million. In 1998, there were 10,074 occupational middle schools nationwide with an enrollment of 5.416 million.
In 1999, there were 1,520 special schools for the hearing-impaired and also for mentally disabled children, with an enrollment of 371,600. More than half of the country’s children with some sort of disability had access to basic education. There were also 181,110 kindergartens nationwide in 1999, with an enrollment of 23.2 million..
Medium-level Occupational and Polytechnic Education
This category consists of medium-level professional schools, polytechnic schools, occupational middle schools as well as various short-term occupational and technical training programs.
Since the 1980's, China’s occupational and polytechnic education has experienced rapid development. In 1997, there were 33,464 occupational and polytechnic schools nationwide with an enrollment of 18.6 million. The same year, there were more than 2,100 training schools training about 1 million students per year. The proportion of enrollment of high-school-equivalent occupational and polytechnic schools out of the total enrollment of China’s high schools increased from 18.9% in 1980 to 56.47% in 1999.
In 1999, there were 3,962 secondary technical schools nationwide, with an enrollment of 5,155,000, and the number of those enrolled in finance and economics, sports and arts programs increased steadily, while the enrollment in technical subjects gradually decreased. In 1999, there were 8,317 vocational senior middle schools nationwide with enrollment reaching 4,438,400, and 4,098 polytechnic schools with an enrollment of 1,560,500.
Higher education has developed substantially in the fifty years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. A three-tier degree system, offering bachelor’s, masters, and doctorate degrees, was instituted in 1981. Following a series of reforms, a diverse, multi-level system of higher education has been initiated, encompassing a full range of subjects and suited to the needs of the national economy and social development. China’s institutions of higher learning include comprehensive universities and specialized universities or institutes. Most specialized programs take three years, with a small number taking two years; comprehensive programs generally take four years, with a small number taking five or six years. China has a number of famous universities, including Peking University, Tsinghua University, Fudan University, Nankai University, Beijing University of Science and Technology, Jilin University, Wuhan University, and Nanjing University. After completing their studies, some college graduates enter the job market, while others may pursue a second bachelor’s degree or enter a master’s or doctoral program. People who have received a doctorate may choose to continue their studies abroad.
China’s institutions of higher learning have produced a large amount of advanced scientific research and technical applications. As of the end of 2001, universities had won 250 State awards in the natural sciences, 50% of the national total; 1,002 State awards for technical inventions, 34% of the national total; and 2,100 State awards for advances in science and technology, 26% of the national total. Universities account for over 60% of all scientific and technical studies published domestically and abroad each year.
Adult education includes anti-illiteracy education and other programs aimed at adults.
China's adult education has evolved rapidly since the establishment of the People’s Republic. In 1999, there were 871 colleges and universities focusing on adult education, offering 800 correspondence-based and evening adult education programs, with 1,157,700 places for those pursuing junior college and bachelor programs, and granting 888,200 diplomas.
In 1998, China’s adult education schools aimed at the rural population included 421 secondary technical schools with an enrollment of 200,200, a total of 4,229 middle schools with an enrollment of 439,200, and 454,924 technical schools that provided training to more than 80 million people, or 12.2% of the rural labor force. Adult education aimed at the country’s rural population has made significant contribution to rural development, with more than 200 million farmers receiving training in these education institutions.
Self-taught higher education examination programs also became increasingly popular, with 224 disciplines available in 1998.
In 1998, about 134,200 anti-illiteracy programs were launched nationwide, assisting 3,208,900 illiterate people.