Education In China| 9 min read

Perhaps no country has constantly put such a high value on education as the Chinese.

Education has played a vital role in China for well over 2000 years and perhaps no country has constantly put such a high value on education as the Chinese. The particular political system which was adopted in the Han dynasty (200 BC to 200 AD) stressed that only educated men could enter the governmental system at every level. Moreover, these positions were open to educated men, regardless of the wealth or class origin.

Educated people automatically became local leaders of their communities and enjoyed prestige and power just by virtue of being educated. As a consequence of the status and social mobility which came with education, it has always been valued by the Chinese who sought it for their children.

Education for women was also important, especially among the upper classes and often educated women were desirable on the marriage market. Educated women not only taught their children but used these skills in running the family, managing family property, keeping accounts, etc.

China today has compulsory education, high achievements among young people and a highly competitive high school and university system. The contemporary educational system is divided into Primary (grades 1-6), Middle School (grades 7-9) and high school (grades 10-12). Admission to particular high schools is dependent upon a very competitive national exam. Today schools in urban China rate with the best in the world. Education is one of the government’s top priorities and most Chinese see education as the key to a better life.

As China has opened its doors to the Western world, their education policy has changed to hasten the process to enable China to communicate with the Western world as effectively as possible. Viewing English as the key foreign language to learn for international prominence has seen English become a compulsory language to learn from Grade 3 in Chinese schools. China has recognized that it can be in the unique position of having the major population being able to speak both the most spoken language in the world (Mandarin) and arguably the most influential language internationally (English).

Today, English is the most studied foreign language in China although the quality of instruction varies greatly and most Chinese citizens do not speak it well. Many universities offer English major degrees and many subjects are also taught in English which is highly attractive to foreigners considering doing a semester abroad in China as part of their university degree back home. Foreigners coming to China are often able to find great opportunities to teach English or in other areas that they may not be afforded in their home country. With China’s fascination for Western culture and English, visitors to the country will undoubtedly have a surreal and one of a kind experience. English teachers are highly respected amongst Chinese students and parents because English is viewed as an extremely challenging yet highly beneficial life skill. As a result, teachers are often treated to special events or invited to cultural excursions which they would never have the privilege of getting back home.

To help obtain a job as an English teacher it is highly recommended you undergo a course that gives you the necessary skills and teaching methodology to be able to competently teach English as a foreign language. There are a number of organisations that can do this around the world and there are different certifications offered by different associations. Many schools in China are looking for people to have one of these certifications as a minimum and some even require candidates to have a Bachelors degree and from a native English speaking country. Not native English speakers are still highly employable in China however.

The most popular and arguably the most coveted certification by potential employers is the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (also known as TEFL) certificate. People who undertake a TEFL course learn the techniques required to teach English to students whose first language is not English. Most people who teach English are in fact not native speakers of that language. They are state school teachers in countries around the world, and as such they hold the relevant teaching qualification of their country, usually with a major in teaching English. Widespread problems exist of minimal qualifications and poor quality providers of training, and as the industry professionalises, it is trying to self-regulate to eliminate these.

Non-graduates can undertake formal TEFL courses if they can demonstrate an ability and level of maturity which would enable them to succeed on the chosen course of study. Entry qualifications, also known as ‘Certificate’ level, are offered by many providers and as such vary greatly in the length of the course, the cost, teaching experience and the curriculum. These are not confined to native speakers and thankfully the profession is generally re-assessing the quality and benefits that non native speaker teachers can bring to the learning/teaching situation.

It should be noted that there are many program providers that can issue the certificates but the actual training course may not be of a very high standard. It is for this reason that you should conduct an extensive research of TEFL program providers initially before making a decision. These courses are often available in your home country or abroad.
Before deciding on which course to take, you should candidly assess your own needs. Common courses offered include: Courses that can run anywhere from a month to a few months. These tend to be quite intensive despite the long training period. This is because there are many aspects to gaining the essential components to teach English. There is more time to focus on the many aspects which includes but is not limited to:

  • Pronunciations, teaching methodologies, learning and creating lesson plans, dealing with students of different abilities, understanding the psyche of students and the teacher/student relationship, how to deal with situations and of course gaining invaluable teaching practise. Many of these courses also include basic Mandarin lessons and cultural experiences (acrobatics, calligraphy etc). These courses are extremely popular with people across the globe, and as such when doing one of these courses you not only make friends to explore China with but you will also learn more about other cultures and possibly meet elsewhere.
  • Short courses that run for a few days. These can be effective for those who have teaching experience or have a limited period of time to travel. However, teaching English as a foreign language is extremely challenging and it is not recommended you do a course of such short duration unless you have experience or are highly confident in your ability to teach. However, most employers tend to favourably consider courses of a minimum of 120 hours which include teaching practice. If possible you should probably favour a course than runs longer to enhance your prospects of employment and give you the skill sets to teach effectively. If circumstances prevent you from doing a longer course or you prefer such a short course please research the company running the course to ensure their teaching is of the highest standard before paying anything.

Online TEFL training courses. These allow you to study when and where you want and are generally more flexible in terms of spreading your study hours to fit in with existing commitments. The technology usually permits fully interactive courses and good training courses will also include a teaching practice component. Whilst these can be convenient and at times a cheaper method of obtaining a TEFL certificate, you must consider the hands on experience you can get in a teaching environment which is invaluable for your confidence and developing your skills as a teacher. Online courses often do not include a real environment component where you can ask questions and have your trainers observe and help you out
There are other variations of the courses such as a mixture of online and real life training.

There are an increasing number of people who see teaching English as a great way to travel the world and have incredible and highly rewarding experiences along the way. There are many kinds of people who look to teaching English:

  • It is a popular way for people to travel on a GAP year
  • Those looking to spend a year or more abroad see it as an ideal and life changing experience.
  • Those who want to help out in smaller communities do volunteer work or even those who have retired and want to impart their wealth of experience and skills.
  • Backpackers who are happy to work in whatever skills are in demand. In China, English teaching is in high demand and represents a refreshing change in the line of work for most backpackers.

One of the great things about gaining one the certifications is it is internationally recognized and makes you highly employable and thereby it essentially becomes a license that enables you to see the world for as long as you desire.  Many people see this career option as a fulfilling and enriching lifestyle choice.

Rachel Yoon

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