School in China is tough. Students spend long hours at school. In the little time they have left homework and private tutoring classes keep them busy.
To add to that, due to the high level of competition, when compared to the average structure of school work in China, the school system in Shanghai stands out as being even more demanding.
Shanghai is a densely populated city, so lots of students are struggling to get admitted into the best schools, or at least in some that are not very far from their homes. Due to attracting candidates from all over China, entering a Shanghai university proves to be a hard to accomplish task.
At a different level, schools themselves are also competing against each other in order to attract the best students, as the results their students get in the national examinations have an important influence on the prestige and sometimes even budget of the schools.
Last, but definitely not least, many of the students in Shanghai come from rich families. Thus they have the relative advantage of being able to improve, as their parents can afford to pay private classes for them.
Many times parents will compete in asking their kids to attend as many private classes as possible. That is the reason why you will often hear of children who, while being enrolled in Mathematics, Chinese or English classes also participate in a series of different art-oriented private classes: for instance, piano or painting.
In what follows I shall offer you a more detailed perspective regarding what one goes through as a student in Shanghai. Below you can see the daily schedule of a Shanghai student in his final year of high school, as detailed to me by many of my Chinese friends and classmates.
Monday to Friday
7:10 AM – students arrive at school.
7:10 AM to 7:30 AM – different activities. Usually, students review Chinese or foreign languages.
7:30 AM to 8:00 AM – outdoor activities. Students will sing the anthem and raise the flag. Afterwards, they will perform several physical activities; they also jog, for 8 minutes in the winter and 5 minutes in the summer.
8:00 AM to 8:40 AM – 1st class
8:40 AM to 8:50 – break
8:50 AM to 9:30 AM – 2nd class
9:30 AM to 9:40 AM – break
9:40 AM to 9:45 AM – eye exercises. Students will perform different exercises that will keep their eyes in shape for the rest of the day
9:45 AM to 10:20 AM – 3rd class
10:20 AM to 10:30 AM – break
10:30 AM to 11:10 AM – 4th class
11:10 AM to 11:20 AM – break
11:20 to 12:00 AM – 5th class
12:00 PM to 1:00 PM – lunch break. Students need around 20 minutes to take their lunch. They eat in their school’s canteen and the same dishes are available for everyone, as follows: rice, soup, one dish with meat, two dishes with vegetables. For a month’s lunch students will usually pay around 230 RMB (34$). They will use the remaining 40 minutes to relax, do homework or prepare for the next class.
1:00 PM to 1:40 PM – 6th class
1:40 PM to 1:50 PM – break
1:50 PM to 2:30 PM – 7th class
2:30 PM to 2:40 PM – break
2:40 PM to 2:45 PM – eye exercises
2:45 PM to 3:25 PM – 8th class
3:25 PM to 3:35 PM – break
3:35 PM to 4:15 PM – 9th class
4:15 PM to 4:25 PM – break
4:25 PM to 5:40 PM – 10th class. The last class is also the longest one – 75 minutes, almost two times longer than a regular class.
On Fridays, the last class will not be held so students will finish school at 4:15 PM.
After finishing the classes, depending on where they live, students will need at least 30 minutes to get home. Subsequently, the schedule for many of them looks as follows:
6:15 PM to 7:00 PM – homework
7:00 PM to 7:30 – dinner
7:30 to 11:30 PM – homework
After 11:30 PM – shower and sleep
Weekends and holidays
Weekends and holidays are usually packed with homework and private classes. During the longer holidays (summer and winter vacation), students will regularly update their teachers on the progress of their homework – they send photos of their homework via Wechat, attend school meetings and even take part in school examinations that are aimed at evaluating their progress.
This is the schedule of a Shanghai student in his final year of high school. However, it should be noted that all the study cycles have similar schedules. Even kindergarten students will usually start classes before 8 AM and finish at around 4 PM.
School in other cities or regions
I emphasized in this article that school in Shanghai is tough. The situation is similar in other big cities from China, such as Beijing or Tianjin.
As for the students from smaller cities or rural areas of China, they still have to spend many hours at school followed by time spent doing homework. However, they generally tend to have more free time than the students from Shanghai or other big cities. It seems to me that the downside is that it is most likely that, later in life, they have limited access to opportunities compared to those studying in big cities.
Nevertheless, in some situations, schools outside Shanghai can also be very tough. During middle school, one of my Chinese friends was enrolled in a school from Jiangsu, where he had to live on campus. He would usually start classes at 5:50 AM and finish at 9:00 PM. He would only have two days off every two weeks. He told me that this strict program helped him get accepted at the best high school from his city (where he would finish classes at 10:00 PM or 10:30 PM and have only three days off a month) and later at a Shanghai university.
Looking back, I can better understand my teacher from Nanjing Normal University who would, at times, get very angry with us, the foreign students. She was very young and had just started teaching. It was very hard for her to get used to the foreign students’ studying style. Easily getting tired after a few hours at school, or complaints regarding homework longer than a few pages were not something she had probably met when she was a student herself.
In China, school is divided as follows:
Primary school – 5 or 6 years (depends on the region)
Middle school – 4 or 3 years (depends on the region)
High school – 3 years
Bachelor – 4 years
Masters – 2 or 3 years (depends on the program)
Ph.D. – 3 or 4 years (depends on the program)
Primary and middle school are compulsory, so all Chinese students must go through a minimum of 9 years of compulsory education.
Note: I wrote this on the same topic