A review of achievements in compulsory education (2012-2021)


The compulsory education system in China currently covers 207,000 schools, 158 million students and 10.57 million teachers. Since 2012, a series of reform measures have been taken to improve equity and quality in compulsory education and build a more complete assurance system for this sector, with a view to providing quality education that meets people’s expectations and promoting balanced educational development in county-level areas across the country based on the universalization of compulsory education.

1. Compulsory education tops the national agenda

A set of supportive policy documents were issued to offer more assurance for compulsory education, in areas ranging from development planning and school operations to capacity building for teachers and supervision of educational quality. Compulsory education has been given top priority in both public funding and resource allocation. As a result, allocations to support compulsory education from the central budget rose from RMB 1.17 trillion to RMB 2.29 trillion between 2012 and 2021, accounting for more than half of all national spending on education.

2. Compulsory education has been further popularized

A long-term mechanism has been implemented and improved to reduce the dropout rate and ensure that all school-age children have access to compulsory education. Between 2012 and 2021, the net enrollment ratio of primary schools nationwide grew from 99.85% to 99.92% while that of junior middle schools continued to surpass 100%. Targeted measures were adopted to help students in poverty and children with disabilities, resulting in over 95% enrolment for students with special needs at the compulsory education stage. In 2021, 920,000 children with disabilities were in school, an increase of 541,000 students, or 142.8%, compared to 2012.

3. Government increases funding support

The assurance system for public spending in compulsory education has been implemented and improved, with a focus on maintaining an urban-rural balance while putting more emphasis on funding education in the countryside. Between 2012 and 2021, annual per-student funding for primary school students increased from RMB 7,447 to RMB 14,458, while that for junior middle school students increased from RMB 10,218 to RMB 20,717. Eligible students in both urban and rural areas can enjoy exemption of tuition and fees, free textbooks, and living allowances. Necessary financial aid has also been guaranteed to all those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, 37 million rural students benefited from the Nutrition Improvement Action Plan each year.

4. Major projects improve school conditions

The central government has appropriated over RMB 400 billion to support the comprehensive improvement of schools in poverty-stricken areas and shore up weak links in compulsory education. Local governments have also invested more than RMB 1 trillion, which helps fill the gap between urban and rural schools. Between 2012 and 2021, the average school floor area per student rose from 3.7m2 to 5m2, while the average area for sports utilization per student rose from 7.3m2 to 8.2 m2, and the average value of school equipment and facilities per student grew from RMB 727 to RMB 2,285. The proportion of schools with access to the Internet increased from 25% to nearly 100%, and the proportion of oversized classes dropped from 17.8% to 0.7%. While the general conditions in compulsory education schools across the country have witnessed significant improvement, school conditions in rural areas in the central and western parts of China have improved by leaps and bounds.

5. Teacher workforce grows stronger

From 2012 to 2021, the total number of full-time teachers in compulsory education increased from 9.09 million to 10.57 million, marking an increase of 1.48 million. The proportion of teachers holding bachelor’s degrees or above increased from 47.6% to 77.7%, which basically satisfies compulsory education requirements. Through multiple projects and programs, a large number of teachers, including state-funded normal college graduates and retired teachers, were dispatched to teach at rural schools in the central and western regions, and more than 17 million school headmasters received targeted training. Measures have been put in place to guarantee salaries and other benefits for teachers and raise subsidy payment rates for rural teachers, with the aim of building a high-performing rural teacher workforce.

6. More integrated governance improves the social environment

A policy toolkit has been developed to improve educational equity, such as measures that allow private and public schools to launch their admission procedures simultaneously and allow migrant students to study and take exams in the place where their parents work. By robust regulation of after-school tutoring activities and the adoption of initiatives to ease school pressure, the academic burden on students has been greatly alleviated. Progress was made in establishing consortiums of schools to boost vitality in school management and expand coverage of quality educational resources. Student management also saw improvement in areas of homework, sleep, use of cellphones, extracurricular reading materials, physical fitness and online gaming. Additionally, psychological health and life safety education was enhanced to safeguard students’ mental and physical health.

7. Reinforced moral education promotes educational quality

Efforts were made to create an educational system conducive to all-around personal development. A Guide to Moral Education for Primary and Secondary Schools was published to facilitate moral education. Labor education or vocational learning was rolled out in all schools. Teachers were encouraged to innovate their teaching skills and reform the pedagogical research system of their schools, contributing to the promotion and sharing of exemplary teaching methods and improvement in science and experimental courses. A strategic action plan to advance the digitalization of education as well as a National Smart Education Platform for Primary and Secondary Schools were launched, providing effective support to online teaching/learning, the “Double Reduction” policy and the quality development of basic education. The Guidelines for Evaluating the Quality of Compulsory Education were released to create an evaluation system serving the needs of well-rounded education. According to the National Oversight Report on the Quality of Compulsory Education, Chinese students in general have a positive emotional attitude and positive values. Furthermore, about 80% of students showed above-average academic performance.

Over the past decade, China has successfully provided its people with better access to higher quality, more equitable education. As a next step, more work will be carried out to consolidate the balanced development of education, accelerate efforts to close educational gaps between different regions, urban and rural areas, schools, and groups, and lay a solid foundation for achieving the 2035 Goals in compulsory education.