Five Major Differences Between The Chinese And American Education System

Five Major Differences Between The Chinese And American Education System
With commentary from educators teaching across borders

Classrooms across the world are different, typically built upon government policy and cultural norms.

In recent years, classrooms across the Western world have gone through some changes. However, one of the most prominent concerns and discussions across school districts is the need for more innovation, creativity, personalized learning, as well as the freedom to prepare our youth for the 21st-century. The traditional classroom is obsolete, and teaching the way we were even ten years ago requires drastic changes.

Also, teachers in the States used to have a bit more freedom, especially when it came to building a unique curriculum to meet student needs. Albeit things are changing, there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to prepare our youth for an unknown job future in the best way possible.

Both local and federal government in America still create and place a lot of weight on standardized tests, as well as provide teaching and learning standards-leaving the teacher out of the discussion.

For local schools to continue to receive funding, public and private schools are required to follow the strings that come attached to those dollars.

In Eastern countries, the most noticeable changes have come down to technology. Although test scores are incredibly critical in the Eastern world, students are slowly starting to take part in 21st-century activities to prepare for the competitive future that awaits. Also, in China, for example, school environments continue to place high levels of pressure on students to compete and maintain high grades.

Below are the five significant differences between Chinese and American classrooms, followed by commentary from American teachers at HAWO American Academy.


Chinese teachers are responsible for larger student bodies in their classrooms than are American teachers. Some Chinese teachers work with more than 30 to 50 students. In America, teachers are beginning to have more freedom to focus on individual student needs. In China’s education world, the focus is more on the collective group of students as a whole. For example, in China, teachers can ask themselves, “What can I do to improve learning as a whole?” While American teachers ask themselves, “What can I do to improve his or her learning?”


In the American school system after each year or grade, students will usually move on to a different teacher as they continue their education journey. In the Chinese education system, one group of students may have the same teacher throughout their education journey–or only two or three teachers, especially in the primary school years.

Chinese teachers, like American teachers, need to meet specific teaching qualifications.


Exams in the Chinese education system hold most substantial weight, and this pressure comes from both the home as well as the country.

The expectation for high grades has become ingrained in the Chinese culture, and all citizens take letter grades and standardized test scores seriously.

Not only does grading strictly determine the education level of the student, but it is also used to evaluate the teacher’s performance. If students do well on their exams, teachers often get a raise. In America, there can be slight consequences for teachers when it comes to student outcomes and performance on both oral and written exams.


In America, the arts and sports are highly encouraged from a young age. In China, however, there is usually no time for the creative arts or sports, leaving a system that continues to focus on memorization and test scores. However, we are beginning to see more examples of creativity and innovation in China. Although this change is slow and new, it is beginning to bubble to the surface in small ways.

Nationality and Individuality

Chinese students don’t get praised as individuals. For example, if an American or Canadian student does a great piece of work, they may be rewarded with a gold star or a great job sticker. In China, the state celebrates education success as a whole.

I had a chance to chat with some teachers in America and Canada who work for HAWO American Academy–working with Chinese students across the globe. Here is what they told me.

Shaundra Schlapia, “I have learned students in China have homework even during breaks and holidays. I think most students complete homework. In my experience in America, teachers may or may not assign homework during the holidays, and expectations are different during this free time.”

Jen, G., “In my province (Ontario) Canada, although homework differs from teacher to teacher, we are advised to assign an average of ten minutes per grade per night. Homework has to be purposeful with a significant extension about something the students have learned. They do not focus on learning anything new at home. Also, students in China have a much longer school day. My students tell me they have (subject specific) teachers in elementary schools, while we have a homeroom teacher who teaches most subjects. Finally, class size is a significant difference. In my province, we have a limit of 20 students up to 3rd-grade. My students from China tell me they are in classes of 50+ students.”

Violeta Talavera, “Homework and reinforcement of learning is a significant factor in China. In America, teachers assign homework, however, sometimes teachers do not place as much weight assignments, and for some districts, students don’t always have to complete their work. There are even some school districts that have decided to do away with homework altogether. Others partner up with an outside company to assign homework, and since it’s usually based on technology, students tend to complete it.”

Heather Carter, “One critical difference I’ve noticed is that students in China never stop studying or learning, even during their summer vacation. Whereas students in America, it’s not required for students to study during the summer.”

Miss Davvison, “The difference between American and Chinese classrooms/education is an area that we used to dominate. We saw the importance in the marriage of learning and the intellect. This area, the Chinese culture is sliding quietly ahead of us. Do you see online classes to speak Chinese and other languages bursting at the seams in America, like we are witnessing here in the Chinese culture? Even their respect for the English language, their honor in the classroom and toward their teachers is eyeopening. They place educators on the same levels as our other American icons, which are adored and respected– given the highest praise and reverence. It’s been a surprising, life-changing, yet simultaneously humbling and amazing journey to learn about the differences among our cultures.”

James Seymour, “In China, every student has a pretty good idea where they rank in their class for each core subject.”

Kristy Diane, “In America/Canada students are moved into middle/high school based on where they live. In China, students must test into and apply to middle schools. Also, Chinese high school teachers do home visits before high school starts for welfare checks, and to ensure kids are actual residents of specific areas.

Some other things to consider among the differences include rigor, homework, after-school activities, school hours, sports (or lack thereof), and class size.

In China, rote memorization comes first, whereas in America we are starting to see more and more inquiry-based learning. The State evaluates Chinese teachers on how well their class progresses compared to using data from prior grades and classes over the course of three years or so.”

Sasha Truman Young, “From what several Chinese teachers have told me, discipline is a real problem in America and hardly an issue in China. Also, everybody is learning English in China, but very few people are learning Chinese in America. They speak English when they visit other countries-even in Asian countries, and I find this very ironic.

And finally, I want to piggyback on what Rhonda said about one’s economic level. In both countries, education will be vastly different due to financial means.”


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