The Chinese Curriculum

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The Chinese National Curriculum is a comprehensive syllabus that Chinese students study throughout primary school (six years), lower secondary school (three years), and senior secondary school (three years). By law, every child must study for nine years of compulsory education, which equates to primary school and lower secondary school. 

Since 1988, the Ministry of Education in China has approved various resources and texts so that the standardised curriculum has become more dynamic and flexible. There remains a focus on studying for various exams, which are the Zhongkao (senior secondary school entrance exams), Huikao (senior secondary school graduation exams), and Gaokao (national college entrance exams). However, ongoing curriculum reform has recently placed more and more emphasis on holistic learning.

What is the National Curriculum in China?

The Chinese National Curriculum covers primary, lower secondary and senior secondary school, and is split into eight “learning domains”, which are as follows:

  1. Language and Literature
  2. Mathematics
  3. Natural Science
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Arts
  6. Technology
  7. Physical Education 
  8. A Practicum (Specialised Course)

An interdisciplinary programme, the Chinese National Curriculum encourages an enriching, cross-curricular approach that aims to develop inquisitive thinkers rather than solely preparing students for the examination process. While exams remain an important aspect of Chinese education and progression, most schools now appreciate the need to help students develop into more rounded citizens.

Chinese educational standards and competition for the best senior secondary schools and universities remain high, but the focus has shifted to a more student-centric approach. Pupils are taught to become critical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than simply rote learners for the purpose of passing exams. This ultimately leads to higher-performing students.

Much of this reform in recent years has been pioneered in Shanghai, with the Shanghai National Curriculum, where schools are also currently implementing a new set of eight core competencies developed by the United Nations Education Committee. These are:

  1. Social Responsibility
  2. Civic Pride
  3.  International Awareness
  4. Culture and Humanity
  5. Science and Technology
  6. Aesthetics
  7. Innovations
  8. Learning to Learn

With the standardised curriculum becoming more variable and diverse, the following are practical examples of what the Chinese National Curriculum looks like in the context of primary school, lower secondary school, and senior secondary school at Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai.

Primary School Chinese Curriculum

Following basic, pre-school education (also known as kindergarten) that normally spans three years, students begin primary school (also known as elementary school), where the focus is on supporting pupils’ academic development and progression in a supportive environment.

Children studying the primary school Chinese National Curriculum in the bilingual environment at Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai are taught the following subjects:

Chinese Studies, which covers Language, Literature and Culture, is taught in Chinese, while English Language and Literature are taught in English. The Mathematics and STEAM elements of the curriculum are a bespoke combination of the Shanghai National Curriculum and related courses from other bilingual curricula.
The school’s primary students are assessed according to the Chinese National Curriculum and complimentary bilingual curricula, which means the standards can be measured against both Chinese and international students around the world.  

Lower and Senior Secondary School Chinese Curriculum

Secondary school in China is split into lower and senior levels. Lower secondary school students study towards the Zhongkao senior secondary school entry exam, while senior secondary school students study towards the Huikao senior secondary school graduation exam and Gaokao college entry exam.

At Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai, students follow the secondary school Chinese National Curriculum, blended with international curricula, educational philosophy and teaching. Our pupils are taught the following subjects in addition to those studied at primary level:

Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics are taught in English and Chinese, with the added option to study a further Modern Foreign Language at this level where appropriate.

Lower secondary students study in preparation for the Zhongkao exam, as part of the Shanghai National Curriculum.

The Chinese National Curriculum at Nord Anglia Schools

The Chinese National Curriculum is taught at all six of our bilingual schools in China. We offer a progressive blend of the Chinese National Curriculum and other leading international curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which is taught to students aged 16 to 18-years-old.
We combine the best of Chinese and international teaching methods and learning styles to provide a bespoke curriculum that is delivered across our outstanding, state-of-the-art campuses by our expert team of experienced, dedicated teaching staff. All of our Chinese bilingual schools accommodate both day and boarding students aged 6 to 18-years-old.

For more information about each school and their curricula, please visit their websites: