The New Chinese Education Policies Every ESL Teacher Ought to Know


The Chinese State Council and the Ministry of Education (MoE) have issued new policies to reform its education system and regulate the after-school tutoring market in China. They include encouraging physical education, reform of the exam system and removing homework for grade 1 and 2 students. Further reforms during June 2021 are likely to regulate after-school tutoring. As a teacher of Chinese students, you should know what these policies mean for your online classes.

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1. Chinese K12 Education Policy Changes

New education policies issued since August 2020 tackle three issues for China’s education system:

(1) Develop a (more) well-rounded education;

(2) Broaden education pathways through university entrance exams (Gao Kao) and high school entrance exams (Zhong Kao);

(3) Reduce burden of parents and students.

They are intended to improve education inequality and reduce the cost to parents of raising their children.

(1) Develop a (more) well-rounded education


  • In August 2020, the Physical Education (PE) Branch of the Ministry of Education issued a note to enhance the fitness of youth (体育总局教育部《关于印发深化体教融合 促进青少年健康发展意见的通知》). The note encourages schools to organise PE clubs and sports event to promote physical health. The most significant item in this note adds PE assessment to some high-stake exams (primary school to junior high school, junior high school to senior high school).(将体育科目纳入初、高中学业水平考试范围,纳入中考计分科)
  • In October 2020, the National State Council issued a significant guideline to oversee the reform of education assessment. 《深化新时代教育评价改革总体方案》This guideline proposes broader ways than the school exam score to assess performance of students, teachers and schools. It sets a general direction to extend assessment to include art education, PE education, ethics education, and practical life skills on top of academic performance. The guideline indicates a general direction of travel but does not include any specific implementation steps and timelines.
Chinese primary school PE class

Chinese primary school PE class

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(2) Broaden education pathways

  • During January and February 2021, the Ministry of Education launched a reform of two high-stakes exams: the university entrance exam (Gaokao) and high school entrance exam (Zhongkao).
  • The high school entrance exam, taken at age 15, completes 12 years of compulsory education. It is now stated officially that 50% of students taking the exam will be expected to enter a vocational school path while the other half will enter high school, leading to university education.
  • The notoriously tough university entrance exam will also change Previously, a student had to do compulsory subjects (Chinese, English, Math) and optional subjects. The choice of optional subjects was based on the student’s choice of university path: STEM-related (physics, chemistry or biology) or humanity-related (history, geology, politics). That is no longer the case. A student can choose any optional subject freely, whether he/she pursues a STEM or humanity path.
Prepare for university entrance exam (Gao Kao)

Prepare for the university entrance exam (Gao Kao)

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(3) Reduce burden of parents and students

  • In April 2021, the MoE issued the note to regulate after-school homework for public schools in the K12 sector. (关于加强义务教育学校作业管理的通知) . The note states that grade 1 and 2 students should be given no homework. For other primary school grades, the homework must take them no more than 60 minutes a day. For junior high school students, the limit is 90 minutes.
  • By the end of June 2021, MoE is expected to issue another note to regulate the after-school tutoring market. Rumour has it that tutoring classes to improve school exam results will be clamped down. Tutoring companies will need to be very careful in their advertising message, avoiding use of words such as “anxiety”, or misleading information to push sales. Subscribe our newsletter to obtain a first-hand interpretation of this new regulation.

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2. What do these policies mean to me as a teacher of English online to Chinese students?


  • Prepare and highlight your resumé accordingly When you prepare your teaching resumé and credentials, you should keep in mind the initiatives from the Chinese Ministry of Education. Can you emphasise a sport you are good at? Are you skilled at fostering a child’s well-rounded development? Make sure you highlight these qualities to align with the future direction of travel. Book a premium 1-1 workshop to make your resume appealing to your Chinese audience.
  • Choose the right mix of platforms to work with. If you are working with a platform that over-emphasises school exam result, maybe it’s time to diversify. Don’t get me wrong, school exams will still be very important, but we may see a future where students are not judged solely by their exam results.
  • Prepare your curriculum and teaching. If you have some flexibility in what you teach and how you deliver the learning experience, is it time to include elements such as life skills and art in your teaching materials or activities?


These policies are designed to address education inequality and reduce the cost and stress of education.

In reality, for a vast country such as China, it takes time to implement any top-down policy. Each region will have its own interpretation and tactics to transform guidelines into practice.

On top of that, parents might react differently and achieve results as opposed to what some of the policies are designed to achieve. For example, they may put even more pressure on students to get into high school instead of vocational school. Or they may hire private tutors to give children classes in PE or art.

Overall, the Chinese education system may turn to a healthier direction, but a real cultural change will always take much longer than a change at a policy level.  


Read my previous blog on ‘Chinese Education System Explained‘ to understand the context.

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