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Release of China’s first oversight report on quality of compulsory education

2018-07-26 11:23:00

The Basic Education Quality Monitoring Centre under the MOE released the China Compulsory Education Quality Oversight Report, the first of its kind, which gives a holistic overview of the quality of China’s compulsory education and students’ moral, intellectual, and aesthetic development, and offers indications on ways to further improve the standard of compulsory education.

I. Quality monitoring as a tool to assess and promote the development of compulsory education

Compulsory education plays a pivotal role in improving citizens’ moral and intellectual development. Oversight can be an effective tool to detect and resolve problems, such as enrolment rate-based quality evaluation practised in some regions. Meanwhile, data collected on student development can provide the basis for adjusting existing educational policies.

Since 2015, the Basic Education Quality Monitoring Centre has been monitoring the performance of primary school students in academic, art and sports subjects, as required by the Education Steering Committee under the State Council, and in accordance with the Education Law of the People's Republic of China and the National Compulsory Education Quality Monitoring Program, with a view to assessing the progress of compulsory education, particularly the implementation of curricula standards and policies across the country, and informing policy-making to improve the quality of education.

To ensure the accuracy and usefulness of evaluation results, a series of indicators and tools were developed based on national curricula standards, with a focus on measuring attainment by students of specific objectives in terms of knowledge and skills acquisition, learning processes and methods, emotional attitudes and values, scientific reasoning and problem-solving abilities. The evaluation was exhaustive, covering every aspect of student development, from moral, intellectual, physical, social, to aesthetic progress, and all key factors that have a potential impact on the quality of education, including course teaching, teacher support, school management, and resource allocation. A participatory process was put in place, involving thousands of stakeholders -- from frontline educational administrators, researchers, schoolmasters and teachers, to experts in the fields of curriculum design, teaching theory, educational measurement and evaluation, and education policy and management -- to ensure the smooth execution of the monitoring plan. IT and AI solutions were fully utilized to upgrade monitoring approaches, and a rigorous monitoring procedure and control measures were developed to ensure the authenticity and integrity of collected data.

II. Major findings

During the first oversight phase between 2015 and 2017, in total 572,314 fourth and eighth grade students from 31 provinces and autonomous regions, as well as 973 counties in the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, were evaluated in terms of performance in moral integrity, Chinese, mathematics, science, sport and health and art. Supplementary assessments of courses offered, teaching conditions, staffing, and school management were also carried out. Meanwhile, 19,346 primary and secondary school principals, and 147,610 teachers were requested to respond to questionnaires to gather additional data. The major findings are as follows:

1. Students in general, demonstrated positive life values and commendable behaviour. Over 90% of them were proud of being Chinese. 96.2% of fourth graders and 97.9% of eighth graders were confident about the future of the country. Most (47.9% and 62.7%, respectively) believed hard work to be the key to success, while only 0.6%~8.5% of them attributed success to strong family backgrounds, assistance from others or sheer luck. Students showed many commendable virtues, including thrift (87.5%; 95%), honesty and integrity (89.2%; 95.3%), friendliness (81%; 81.1%), and compliance with social ethics (93.6%; 97.3%). However, results showed that students need to be more engaged in useful manual labour, such as household chores (68.4%; 68.6%) and keeping school premises and classrooms clean (53.1%; 38.2%).

2. Students were found to be doing well in tests but lacked the critical thinking to apply their scientific knowledge. On a scale of one to four for academic performance (poor, average, good, excellent) designed in line with internationally accepted procedures and methodologies, four-fifths (81.8% of fourth graders and 79.6% of eighth graders) of evaluated students achieved an “Average” score or above in Chinese, and one-fifth (21%; 22.7%) were ranked “Excellent”. Their performance was more or less the same in math (84.6% and 78.9% rated “Average” or above vs. 23.8% and 26.7% “Excellent”) and in scientific knowledge (76.8% and 83.6% vs. 16% and 12%). The performance of fourth and eighth graders in applying their knowledge however was weaker. The number of fourth graders achieving a score of “Average” in scientific enquiry was 75.7% and 74.6% in scientific reasoning, 5 percentage points lower than their score in scientific knowledge. For the same tests, the number of eighth graders achieving an “average” score was 83% scientific inquiry and 76. 3% in scientific reasoning, 4.1 and 10.8 percentage points lower than their score in scientific knowledge.

3. Students did well in cardiovascular fitness and speed tests. Measured against the National Student Physical Health Standard (as revised in 2014), the vast majority of students (98.1% of fourth graders and 95.9% of eighth graders were rated “Average” or above, and 33.4% and 31% were rated “Excellent,” respectively. Both groups performed equally well in 50-meter sprints: 96.3% and 94.7% passed the test, and 18.3% and 21.4% were rated “Excellent”. However, the prevalence of obesity, myopia and sleep deprivation was found to have risen. Among fourth graders, 8.5% of the boys and 5.1% of the girls were overweight, compared with 8.5% of the boys and 6.2% of the girls among eighth graders. 36.5% of fourth graders and 65.3% eighth graders had sight problems, and the prevalence of moderate or serious myopia was high among girls (18.6% and 10.4% of fourth graders; 24.1% and 39.5% of eighth graders) than boys (16.4% and 9%; 22.1% and 31.7%, respectively.) A lack of sleep was also a prevalent problem. Only 30.7% of fourth graders and 16.6% of eighth graders had enough sleep, i.e., 10 hours of sleep per day for primary school students and 9 hours for secondary school students, as stipulated in the School Management Standards at Compulsory Education Level (2017) issued by the MOE.

4. Students performed well in singing, but less so in musical appreciation, basic knowledge of art and appreciation of art. Over four-fifth of students (82.6% of fourth graders and 86.1% of eighth graders respectively) were able to sing complete songs fluently and at a steady pace, however, they achieved an accuracy of just over 50% (52% of fourth graders and 53.8% of eighth graders, respectively) in quizzes on basic music knowledge, such as rhythm, beat, tone, intensity and speed. 66.1% of fourth graders and 63.2% of eighth graders gave accurate answers in quizzes on style, genre and form of music works, emotions and sentiments conveyed by the works, and knowledge of famous songs. In terms of art, 63.9% of fourth graders gave accurate answers in terms of colour, lines, symmetry, space and other art elements, compared to 62.1% of eight graders, while 67.9% of fourth graders answered accurately to questions on style, genre and form of art work.

5. Students generally spend too much time on homework; many attend after-school lessons and are under excessive pressure.

Surveys were carried out on students in their study of math (in 2015) and Chinese (in 2016). The results showed that the proportion of fourth graders spending over 30 minutes on homework was 33.6% for math and 40.4% for Chinese, those spending over 60 minutes was 14.7% for math and 21.5% for Chinese, while those having to invest over two hours after school in math and Chinese was 4.4% and 8.7% respectively. The results showed that the proportion of eighth graders spending over 30 minutes on homework was 50.2% for math and 45.5% for Chinese, those spending over 60 minutes was 19.2% for math and 15.1% for Chinese, while those having to invest over two hours after school in math and Chinese was 4.4% and 8.7% respectively. The proportion of fourth graders attending after-school lessons was 43.8% for math and 37.4% for Chinese, while for the eighth graders the proportions were 23.4% and 17.1% respectively. More than one third of students were shown to be under excessive pressure, evidenced by responses to the surveys that revealed 30.7% of fourth graders and 49.4% of eighth graders felt stressed about their math studies.

6. A high proportion of students hold favourable views of the courses provided by their schools, but there is room for further improvement in terms of curriculum arrangement.

Results from the surveys show that 93.8% of fourth graders and 89.1% of eighth graders liked their math classes; 91.5% of fourth graders liked their science classes, while 82.4%, 86.6% and 80.1% of eighth graders liked their physics, biology and geography classes respectively; 89.6% of fourth graders and 87.9% of eighth graders enjoyed their music classes; 88.6% of fourth graders and 81.8% of eighth graders enjoyed their art classes; 92.9% of fourth graders and 87.3% of eighth graders liked their PE classes; 89.8% of fourth graders and 83.5% of eighth graders liked their moral education classes.

Time spent on Chinese and math classes significantly exceeded that spent on PE and art classes. For example, in 72% and 67.2% of the surveyed schools, students had more than 6 Chinese classes and 5 math classes per week respectively. In contrast, in 44.3% and 12.9% of the surveyed schools, students had less than 3 PE classes and less than 3 art classes per week respectively.

The outcome of the studies also revealed that students lacked enough opportunities to carry out experiments and practices in their science classes. For example, only 38.7% and 19.3% of eighth graders had carried out over 3 experiments in their physics and biology classes respectively during the surveyed semester, while 23.8% and 47.1% of them had not done any.

7. Teachers are generally rated highly by their students, but some need further improvement in their teaching skills and domain knowledge.

The studies revealed that 91.6% of fourth graders and 79.6% of eighth graders liked their head teachers; 94.7% of fourth graders and 87.4% of eighth graders liked their Chinese teachers; 90.8% of fourth graders and 84.4% of eighth graders liked their music teachers; 88.6% of fourth graders and 81.1% of eighth graders liked their art teachers; 90.5% of fourth graders and 84.7% of eighth graders liked their PE teachers; 90.8% of fourth graders and 82.1% of eighth graders liked their moral education teachers; 91.2% of fourth graders like their science class teachers, while 83.4%, 84.3% and 81.3% of eighth graders liked their physics, biology and geography teachers, respectively.

Survey results showed that science class teachers needed further improvement in their teaching skills. 63% of fourth-grade science class teachers, and 61.2%, 75.5% and 80.7% of eighth-grade physics, biology and geography teachers, respectively, lacked experience in helping students learn in a hands-on inquiry based manner. Also, 79% and 71.3% of fourth-grade and eighth-grade moral education teachers, respectively, lacked relevant domain knowledge, especially in the areas of law, geography and psychology.

8. Most schools possess a good cultural atmosphere and learning environment.

In order to build a good environment for moral education, more than 90% of the surveyed primary and junior high schools promoted Core Socialist Values among students and have developed their own school mottos and teaching philosophy; 82.3% of primary schools and 90.1% of junior high schools boasted sculptures, paintings and mottos of eminent figures; 76.1% of primary schools and 85.2% of junior high schools displayed paintings of famous figures from Chinese history and their moral stories.

The most frequently held cultural and sports activities for fourth graders were sports days and sports tournaments (68.1%). The next most popular events were speech contests and essay competitions (45.9%), student work exhibitions (40.2%) and performances such as drama, singing and dancing and school galas (32.8%).

The most frequently held cultural and sports activities for the eighth graders were sports days and tournaments (86%). The next popular events were educational programs on a specific theme (84%), speech contests and essay competitions (80.3%), performances such as drama, singing and dancing and school galas (69.7%), and student work exhibitions (59.2%).

9. Schools are equipped with sufficient facilities to accommodate students and teachers’ needs, but the utilization rate for these facilities is relatively low.

92.4% of the surveyed primary schools and 97.4% of the surveyed junior high schools had libraries; 78.4% of fourth graders had access to science labs in their schools, while 97.1% and 93.6% of eighth graders had access to physics and biology laboratories, respectively; 86.9% of fourth graders had access to scientific laboratory equipment in their schools, while 99.2% and 96.4% of the eighth graders had access to physics and biology laboratory equipment, respectively.

In schools equipped with a library, 37.2% of fourth graders and 50.5% of eighth graders said they had never visited their library in the surveyed semester; in schools equipped with laboratories, 39.1% of fourth-grade science class teachers, 39.7% of eighth-grade physics teachers and 59.4% of eighth-grade biology teachers said they have never or seldom used these laboratories; in schools equipped with art classrooms, 39% of fourth-grade and 31.9% of eighth-grade music teachers said they had never or seldom used their music classroom, while 55.3% of fourth-grade and 51.5% of eighth-grade art teachers said they had never or seldom used their art classrooms.

10. Parents generally pay close attention to their children’s academic performance, but there is room for improvement in terms of communication and parenting skills.

According to the surveyed fourth graders and eighth graders, their parents’ primary concerns were academic performance (79.8%, 79.9%), physical health (66.6%, 66.5%), and safety (62.2%, 52.2%). Other concerns were moral development (25.3%, 30.7%), behaviour and habits (15.2%, 18.7%), hobbies, interests and talents (10.8%, 7.1%) and mental health (6.5%, 11.1%).

It was found that some parents lacked adequate communication with their children. For example, 22.5% of fourth graders and 21.2% of eighth graders said their parents “never or seldom asked how they are doing in school or in class”. Some parents needed to improve their parenting skills. For example, 15.4% of fourth graders and 9.9% of eighth graders said their parents “never listened carefully to what they said”, and 19.3% of fourth graders and 18.8% of eighth graders said that if they were asked by their parents to do something they did not want to do, they were “never given reasons why they had to do it”.

While China’s compulsory education has made significant progress over recent years, there is still much to be done, as evidence by the outcome of this report. Some of the most common problems include overemphasis on academic achievement, a lack of emphasis on art education and sports, a lack of opportunities for students to develop practical and hands-on skills and heavy homework load. Constructive recommendations are given in the final part of the report, with a view to improving the country’s compulsory education.

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