Comparing the Education Systems in the US and China

Published: 2019-09-12 07:00:00
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The US and China are widely known for their impeccable education system. The ingenuity and unmatched expertise of the graduates of these two countries attest to the superiority of their education systems. However, even though they are ranked as top notch education system, they differ greatly, especially in structure, content and discipline. These differences create a perfect distinction between the education systems of these two nations. The primary purpose of this paper will be to provide a comprehensive comparison of the education systems of the US and China. The emphasis will be on identifying the areas in which they differ and how this difference affects the learning process or performances of all students.

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The Structure

The structure of the education systems in these countries greatly differ. The American system is structured to provide compulsory education among all children. The federal government has imposed a rule that requires mandatory attendance to school for all children. The age at which school begins is often determined by the state governments. Each state has its own regulations that govern school attendance, including minimum age of entry and maximum age of exit. There is an elaborate free public education program that guarantees access to education for all Americans from the kindergarten level all the way to grade 12 (Fallows, 2015). This public education program is often referred to as the K-12. It is usually comprised of several school levels.

The first level is elementary school. The first class is kindergarten. This is what the K in K-12 stands for. In most instances kids join kindergarten at the ages of either 5 or 6 years old. Here, the statutory school day is usually 4 hours long as kids are engaged in learning activities. After kindergarten, the children move through from grade 1 to grade 5. This marks the end of elementary school. The second school level is junior high school. This is usually comprised of children from grade 6 all the way to grade 8. Finally, there is high school that encompasses students in grade 9 to grade 12. A student must undergo through this entire system to officially graduate after high school. After successful completion, graduates are free to join colleges and universities of their choice, depending of their performances (Hew, & Brush, 2007). There are several aspects of this structure that differs from the Chinese educational system.

To begin with, the structure of the Chinese education system is divided into 6 school levels. The first one is referred to as primary school. It includes students in grade 1 all the way to grade 6. Here, children of ages 6 to 12 years explore their core capabilities to determine the careers that they will adopt. It lasts for 6 years. The second level is the junior or lower secondary school level. The Chinese name for this level is chuzhong. It runs from grade 7 up to grade 9 in a period of 3 years. The third level is the senior or upper secondary level. It spans across grades 10 to grade 12 and marks the end of secondary school. After here, qualified candidates graduate and progress on to the undergraduate level for a Bachelors degree. They are categorized as grade 13 all the way to grade 16. This is the fourth level. The fifth one is the graduate level where qualified students can attain their Masters degree. It spans from grade 17 to grade 18. The sixth and final level is doctoral level. It incorporates students from grade 19 to grade 21 (Ngok, 2007).

The analysis of the structure of these two education systems reveals some very interesting facts. To begin with, the Chinese education system is very detailed than the American K-12 education system. It incorporates even programs for higher education. However, the K-12 education system caters for only education from the kindergarten level to grade 12. Nevertheless, there are programs for higher education and students can still get their Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees (Boyd, 2008).

The Grading System

Both the US and the Chinese education system utilize a relatively similar grading to classify student performances. The grades are denoted by a letter that is representative of the score that a student receives. In both nations, the grading system is based on the following guide;

Letter Grade Percentage

A 90-100

B 80-89

C 70-79

D 60-69

E 0-59

However, the ranking systems in these two nations are very different. The Chinese education system favors a rank based grading system to encourage healthy competition among students. In this approach, the scores of each student are summed and used to rank the student in a class or school level. The rankings are then posted for the students to view. This sparks a lot of competition among the students as they strive to move up the ranks. However, it can be very demeaning to struggling students who often find themselves at the bottom of the performance list. The American education system, on the other hand, prefers a standardized approach in assessing the performances of students (Ravitch, 2011).

This approach is clearly illustrated in the No Child Left Behind Act. All states are responsible for establishing their own minimum standards that student must achieve to pass. The minimum standards are generated through a careful analysis of past performances and the prevailing circumstances. There are several standardized assessment tests that students must successfully complete to move on to the next level in the education system. The main advantage of this approach is that it standardizes the academic performance of all students in the system. Nevertheless, it greatly inhibits the innovation of students as all they have to do to attain a pass mark is to memorize the content on which these standardized tests are based on (Ravitch, 2011).

Access and Affordability

It is increasingly important for education to be both affordable and accessible to the general populous. When it comes to accessibility, the American education system has done an exemplary job. The K-12 education program encourages more children to embrace education. The fact that it is free and mandatory ensures that the entire American population possesses the basic education. There are also very many private schools to supplement the K-12 program. These private schools are renowned for their impeccable performances. The rich and affluent members of the society prefer to have their kids learn in private schools to ensure that they get the highest quality of education. The higher education program in America is also very accommodating. Today, many Americans get their Bachelors degrees from the many institutions of higher education located all over the country (Fallows, 2015).

The Chinese education system, on the other hand, does not promote these high levels of accessibility. For instance, high schools are private entities in China. They are privately owned by individuals or organizations. This makes it relatively difficult for students, especially poor families to access high school education. Furthermore, even those with the resources needed, entry to these educational institutions is highly competitive. The private high schools require high performing students who will exemplify their names and reputations in the industry. Therefore, they are often very selective when admitting new students. Therefore, acceptance is not always easy, whether the resources exist or not. It is also relatively expensive to access top notch education in China, than it is in the US. For example, the fees charged by these private high schools are exorbitant, compared to the fact that the same kind of education is offered for free to Americans (Ngok, 2007).

Finally, the Chinese education system is stricter than that of the US. The students are subjected to rigorous tests to guarantee that they have pristine and impeccable skills. In most instances, tests for gaining entry into colleges and universities are taken only once. They are structured to be tough on the aspiring applicants. Therefore, the resultant performances of these students are equally high. This is the main reason why there are very many highly qualified graduates from China. This seriousness is not always prevalent in the American education institution. Even the school hours are shorter in the US than in China (Boyd, 2008).


As clearly demonstrated in this paper, there are very many differences between the education systems of China and the US. These differences ultimately determine the quality of education that students from these two nations receive. However, each nation has done an exemplary job in designing stellar education systems that provide essential knowledge to the students. Constants improvements on the shortfalls of these systems are necessary to ensure that all students experience the best learning process that will help them improve the quality of lives that they lead.

Works Cited

Boyd, Cynthia. "Education in U.S. and China: What's the Difference?" MinnPost. N.p., 5 May 2008. Web. 08 May 2016. <>.

Fallows, James. "Chinese and American Education: Compare and Contrast." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 08 May 2016. <>.

Hew, Khe Foon, and Thomas Brush. "Integrating technology into K-12 teaching and learning: Current knowledge gaps and recommendations for future research." Educational Technology Research and Development 55.3 (2007): 223-252.

Ngok, Kinglun. "Chinese education policy in the context of decentralization and marketization: Evolution and implications." Asia Pacific Education Review 8.1 (2007): 142-157.

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Basic Books.

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