In China, children enter school at about 6. Before they enter elementary school, which covers six years, they are taught in kindergartens. At the end of primary school, the children must pass an examination to go on to middle school. The overwhelming majority of the pupils pass smoothly. The middle schools are actually divided into two parts, covering three years each, with examinations at the end of each part.
The school year consists of two terms and two vacations - a winter vacation from the end of January to the end of February and a summer vacation from mid-July to the beginning of September.
Our middle school students study Chinese, math, physics, chemistry, biology, English, arts, music, history, geography, birth control, and politics. Students are taught the ABC of Marxism as well as some of the party's and government's policies and the important world and domestic events. Chinese, math, physics, and chemistry are the most important subjects.
In recent years English has come to have greater importance, for English is being counted more heavily on the entrance examinations.
All students take the same subjects in spite of the difference and variety of the students' ability. The good ones absorb what the teachers give, while the worse ones are obliged to learn what they don't want. Most of these children at present have no intention of entering the institutions of higher learning at all.
The best students within a district and from all parts of a city vie with one another to squeeze into the best school, the one which sends most of its graduates on to the university and is filled beyond its capacity.
Another reason the best school can attract so many students is ''unemployment.'' In China unemployment is an extremely serious problem. Those who graduate from institutes of higher learning are sure to be appointed by the government to some job; such a person is said to get an ''iron bowl.'' The rest who fail to be enrolled by the universities or colleges have to wait for a job, even for years. This is known as ''waiting for employment'' instead of ''unemployment.''
The government encourages all the society to set up technical schools and short-period training classes for ''waiting-for-employment'' youths. In the past few years, vocational schools and special training classes have been mushrooming everywhere. Teachers are recruited from other schools; some of them are retirees. After attending such courses, the students can start their own business.
There is no discrimination in China in entering a particular school. A peasant's child can enter a key school as well as an intellectual's child. But generally speaking, the intellectuals' children have two advantages which the workers' and peasants' children do not. The first is a higher living standard, which means that children of intellectuals have less housework to do. Instead, they may have more time to read and write. They have more books and supplementary readings. Second, their homes are more conducive to studying.
Of course, there are more college students from ordinary laboring families than there used to be in the past. As the living condition of the laboring people, especially the peasants improves, even more of their children will be studying in colleges and universities.