Educational Challenges in Taiwan: Mental Health in Taiwanese High Schools

Written by Thao Pham.

In the chronicles of global education, Taiwan has etched its name with an education system renowned for academic excellence and unwavering standards. However, beneath the surface of this claim lies a pressing concern – the mental health challenges faced by high school students. The Taiwanese education system, marked by intense competition and high expectations, places an enormous burden on students striving for scholastic distinction and coveted spots in prestigious universities. This relentless pursuit of achievement, compounded by societal expectations and the looming fear of failure, exacts a toll on the mental well-being of students, giving rise to pervasive issues such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or burnout.

Navigating the landscape of mental health in Taiwanese high schools is further complicated by deeply ingrained cultural stigmas. These often shroud the struggles in silence and shame, creating barriers that hinder students from seeking help and perpetuating a distressing cycle. While strides have been made in addressing these concerns, there remains an imperative to foster a culture of openness and support. This article endeavours to unravel the complex layers of these struggles and aims to spark conversations that propel positive transformation.

Education in Taiwan

The Taiwanese education system is deeply rooted in the legacy of Confucian values and places a strong emphasis on academic achievement, discipline, and respect for authority. Spanning several years of education, it aims to prepare students for future scholastic and career pursuits. It begins with six years of elementary education, where students acquire foundational knowledge in subjects such as mathematics, Chinese language, English, science, and social studies. This phase focuses on building a strong educational base and developing essential skills in communication and problem-solving. Following elementary school, students progress to three years of junior high school. Here, they delve deeper into various subjects and receive more specialised instruction.

The curriculum expands to include subjects such as literature, history, geography, biology, chemistry, and physics. Additionally, students begin to explore elective courses based on their interests and career aspirations. The final stretch of the Taiwanese education system consists of three years in senior high school. This phase is crucial as it prepares students for the university entrance exams, which have a significant impact on their future academic pursuits. Senior high school students focus intensively on exam preparation, dedicating considerable time and effort to studying and reviewing the required curriculum.

The pinnacle of this academic odyssey culminates in the monumental university entrance exams, a rite of passage that echoes Confucian principles of meritocracy. The General Scholastic Ability Test (GSAT), commonly known as the joint college entrance exam, assesses students’ knowledge and skills across various subjects, including Chinese language, English, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences. The results of this exam play a vital role in determining students’ eligibility for admission into universities and colleges. Success in these exams is often equated not just with educational achievements but with societal stature.

To support students in their academic journey, Taiwan has made significant investments in education, with a focus on providing modern facilities and resources to enhance the learning experience. Schools are well-equipped with advanced laboratories, libraries, and multimedia classrooms. The integration of technology in education has become increasingly prevalent, with the use of computers, tablets, and online resources to support teaching and learning. The country also has a robust network of cram schools, also known as buxiban. Approximately 70 per cent of high school students in Taiwan attend cram schools, and 60 per cent of middle school students attend them as well. These privately-run institutions offer supplemental education and exam preparation services. Cram schools provide additional tutoring, practice exams, and study resources to help students excel in their studies and increase their chances of success in the university entrance exams.

The Taiwanese education system is characterised by a strong commitment to quality education and continuous improvement. Schools in Taiwan are equipped with modern facilities, and teachers undergo rigorous training to ensure their competence and ability to deliver effective instruction. The emphasis on discipline and respect for authority creates a structured learning environment that promotes academic excellence and personal growth. Yet, woven into this tapestry of academic dedication are the challenges that underpin the mental health of high school students. The intense competition inherent in the system, coupled with societal expectations and the fear of failure, casts a looming shadow. Stress, anxiety, and, at times, depression become companions in this arduous journey.

An English quiz in Taichung Municipal Chu-Jen Junior High School / Photo by Chia Ying Yang via Wikimedia

Mental health issues and their stigmas

In Taiwan, high school students face significant mental health challenges that have a profound impact on their well-being, academic performance, and overall quality of life. Stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout are common issues experienced by Taiwanese high school students, with alarming statistics highlighting the prevalence of these mental health concerns. Academic pressure is a major contributor to the mental health issues faced by high school students in Taiwan. The intense focus on academic achievement and the competitive nature of university entrance exams places immense pressure on students. According to a study conducted by the Child Welfare League Foundation, over 70 per cent of high school students in Taiwan experience high levels of stress. The fear of not meeting expectations and the pressure to excel academically can lead to heightened anxiety levels and burnout.

One of the significant barriers to addressing mental health issues among Taiwanese high school students is the cultural stigma surrounding mental health. Traditional beliefs and cultural norms often view mental health problems as a sign of weakness or personal failure. This stigma prevents students from seeking help and perpetuates the cycle of suffering. According to research conducted by the Taiwan Suicide Prevention Center, the suicide rate among students aged from 15 to 24 has been increasing, underscoring the urgency of addressing mental health concerns.

Efforts have been made in Taiwan to address mental health issues among high school students. Schools have implemented counselling services and mental health programs to provide support and resources for students. The Ministry of Education has also developed guidelines for mental health promotion in schools, emphasising the importance of awareness, prevention, and early intervention. These initiatives aim to create a supportive environment and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. However, despite these efforts, there are still many challenges in effectively addressing mental health issues among Taiwanese high school students. One of the key challenges is the lack of sufficient resources and funding for mental health support in schools. The demand for mental health services often exceeds the available resources, leading to long waiting lists and limited access to timely support for students.

Another challenge is the need to increase awareness and education around mental health. While progress has been made in reducing the stigma associated with mental health, there is still a long way to go. Many students, parents, and educators may still lack understanding and knowledge about mental health issues, which can hinder early identification and intervention. Additionally, the pressure to achieve high academic performance remains deeply ingrained in the education system and society, making it difficult to shift the focus towards holistic well-being. The emphasis on standardised tests and university entrance exams creates a competitive environment that prioritises academic success over mental well-being. To address this challenge, a comprehensive approach is needed, involving not only schools but also policymakers, parents, and the wider community.

To truly address mental health issues among high school students in Taiwan, it is crucial to rely on facts and statistics to highlight the severity of the problem. By emphasising the prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout among students and showcasing the impact of these issues on their well-being and academic performance, we can raise awareness and advocate for better support and resources. Additionally, it is important to continue promoting a supportive and inclusive environment in schools, where students feel comfortable discussing their struggles and seeking help without fear of judgment or stigma.


In conclusion, the Taiwanese education system, deeply rooted in Confucian values, places a strong emphasis on academic achievement. High school students face intense competition and pressure to excel academically and secure admission to prestigious universities. This, combined with a rigorous curriculum, heavy workload, and societal expectations, can contribute to mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, and a sense of constant pressure. Promoting a supportive environment, addressing stigma, and prioritising students’ well-being are essential steps toward addressing these challenges and fostering a healthier educational culture in Taiwan. Last but not least, it is essential to recognise that the problem discussed above extends beyond the Taiwanese borders, resonating with many other countries in the Sino-sphere where the pressures of academic achievement and the accompanying mental health challenges are shared experiences.


Cover Image by NSaad (WMF) via Wikimedia Commons

Educational Challenges in Denmark

Written by Camille BOBLET—LEDOYEN

“Yes, Denmark may have the laurel of the happiest country in the world, but that does not mean that, as in every capitalist economy, everybody is happy.”[1]

Michael Roberts, 2022.

Education is a vital pillar of a nation’s development, and Denmark is renowned for its strong commitment to providing high-quality education. However, like any other country, Denmark faces its own challenges within its educational system. This article will explore the significant academic challenges that Denmark has encountered, examining their causes and potential solutions. The challenges facing the Danish education system undermine the idea of an open, inclusive society promoted in the 1980s and 1990s: the complex integration of ethnic minorities living in urban ghettos (Human Right Watch, 2021)[2]; the gradual deconstruction of the welfare state, to which Helle Thorning-Schmitt’s left-wing government made a major contribution between 2011 and 2014; a growing school malaise, with a school population that is either dropping out or depressed. Today, Denmark remains divided between two main trends: historical isolationism, which has seen Denmark withdraw from the European concert in recent centuries, skeptical of European integration (along with France, Denmark was one of the countries to reject the 2005 Lisbon Treaty in a referendum); progressive integration, with a membership of NATO and the Common Market, and the promotion of economic liberalism. The issue of migrant reception crystallizes this division in Danish society: the current government’s desire to transfer asylum seekers to a “third country” is a sign that historical isolationism is gaining ground.

Children attend support lessons. Photo by Magnus Fröderberg

Education System

Denmark’s education system has witnessed ongoing debates regarding assessment methods and standardization. Critics argue that the emphasis on standardized testing and rigid curriculum frameworks can limit teachers’ autonomy and creativity, leading to a narrow focus on exam preparation. There is a growing recognition of the need for a more holistic approach to assessment, encompassing students’ diverse skills and abilities. Recent reforms have aimed to reduce the reliance on high-stakes testing and promote more formative and individualized assessment practices.

Classes in Denmark generally have no more than twenty pupils, and schools are financed by local taxes, which can lead to greater or lesser territorial disparity. The 2013 reform increased school hours from 21 to 30 per week, and teachers were encouraged to spend more time at school. The April 2013 reform took place against a backdrop of strikes but finally came into force at the start of the September 2014 school year. The difficulties encountered by public schools (longer working hours for teachers with no salary compensation, a curriculum that depends on the region) have favoured private schools: today, 15% of Danish pupils attend private classes.[3].

Smooth transitions between different educational levels can significantly impact student success. Denmark faces challenges in ensuring a seamless transition from primary to secondary education and from secondary to higher education or vocational training. Inconsistencies in curriculum alignment, lack of guidance and counselling, and limited cooperation between educational institutions have been identified as obstacles. Efforts to enhance coordination, establish clear pathways, and provide comprehensive support during transitional phases are essential to address this challenge.

Also, while Denmark has made significant progress in digitalizing its education system, there are still challenges to overcome. Access to digital resources, teacher professional development, and the digital divide among students require attention. Ensuring equitable access to technology, providing training to educators, and integrating digital tools effectively into the curriculum are crucial steps to harness the potential of technology in enhancing learning outcomes.

While Denmark offers free tuition for Danish and EU/EEA students, there are still financial considerations and costs associated with higher education. While tuition fees are generally covered for Danish and EU/EEA students, the cost of living can be a significant financial burden. Expenses such as accommodation, food, transportation, and study materials can add up, particularly for students who need to relocate or live in high-cost areas such as Copenhagen. These living expenses can create challenges for students from low-income backgrounds. Non-EU/EEA students are required to pay tuition fees to study in Denmark. These fees can vary depending on the institution, program, and level of study. The tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students can be substantial, making it difficult for some individuals to afford higher education in Denmark. However, it is essential to note that Denmark offers a range of scholarships and grants to support international students, mitigating some of the financial barriers. Finding affordable and suitable housing can be challenging for students, especially in cities with high rental prices. Accommodation costs can consume a significant portion of a student’s budget, leaving limited funds for other essential expenses. To address this issue, Denmark provides student housing options at affordable rates through housing associations, student dormitories, and rental subsidies. However, the demand for student housing often exceeds the available supply, creating additional challenges for students.

Mental Health

The mental health of Danish schoolchildren is a major concern. According to a report by the Human Practice Foundation and a second by the OECD (Learning Compass 2030),

“The treatment of children with stress increased by 900% from 1995-2015. Studies also show a clear correlation between children who are unhappy/discontented and absenteeism/learning patterns. This contributes to the fact that in 2018 32% of Danish students nationally were not deemed ready for higher education in eighth grade and that in 2019 10% of the students in the ninth grade did not complete the primary school’s mandatory exams.”[4]

The significant increase in the treatment of children with stress suggests a growing prevalence of stress-related issues among Danish students. Factors such as academic pressure, social expectations, and personal challenges contribute to heightened stress levels. These stressors can impact students’ well-being, engagement, and academic performance. The statistic indicating that 32% of Danish students were not deemed ready for higher education in eighth grade highlights a significant challenge in preparing students for future educational pursuits. This readiness is crucial for smooth transitions and successful academic trajectories beyond primary school. Factors such as academic preparation, skill development, and socio-emotional well-being play a role in students’ readiness for higher education.

A reading room in the State and University Library (Statsbiblioteket- now Royal Danish Library) in Aarhus, Denmark. Photo by ©Villy Fink Isaksen, Wikimedia Commons, License cc-by-sa-4.0

Socio-economic Disparities

One significant challenge in Danish education is socioeconomic disparities, which can impact student achievement and perpetuate social inequality. Research has shown that students from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have lower educational outcomes compared to their more privileged counterparts. Factors such as parental education, income, and cultural capital play a crucial role in shaping a student’s educational trajectory. To address this challenge, Denmark has implemented various initiatives, including targeted support programs for vulnerable students, increased access to early childhood education, and reforms aimed at reducing educational inequality.

Socioeconomic disparities can also influence students’ cultural capital, which refers to the knowledge, skills, and behaviours that are valued in the educational system, albeit not Danish specificity per se. Students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have lower academic achievement than their more affluent peers. This achievement gap manifests in various ways, including lower test scores, higher dropout rates, and reduced access to higher education. Socioeconomic factors such as parental education, income, and occupation significantly influence a student’s academic performance and educational outcomes. Early childhood education is crucial in laying the foundation for a child’s educational journey. However, socioeconomic disparities often result in unequal access to high-quality early education. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds may have limited access to preschool programs, which can affect their readiness for formal schooling. Denmark has implemented initiatives to increase access to early childhood education, such as providing subsidies and support for vulnerable families. However, there is still a need for further efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all children. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may face limited access to educational guidance and support systems, including career counselling and tutoring services. This lack of support can hinder their educational and career aspirations. Providing comprehensive guidance and support services to students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can help level the playing field and enhance their educational opportunities.

“Across most OECD countries, socio-economic status influences learning outcomes more than gender and immigrant status. In Denmark, the proportion of children from the bottom quartile of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) achieving at least PISA level 2 in reading in 2018 was 22% lower than that of children from the top ESCS quartile, a smaller share than the OECD average of 29%.”[5]

Integration of Immigrant Students

The integration of immigrant students in Denmark is a critical aspect of the Danish education system.

Denmark has experienced an influx of immigrants and refugees in recent years, which has presented challenges in integrating these students into the education system. Language barriers, cultural differences, and limited educational backgrounds can hinder the academic progress of immigrant students. Denmark has implemented strategies such as language immersion programs, intercultural awareness training for teachers, and initiatives to promote multicultural understanding among students to address this issue. Immigrant students may face educational gaps due to differences in curriculum, educational systems, or limited educational opportunities in their countries of origin. To address these gaps, Denmark has implemented bridge programs that provide additional academic support and resources to help immigrant students catch up with their peers. These programs focus on core subjects and provide individualized assistance to ensure a smooth transition into the Danish educational system. However, further efforts are needed to enhance integration and provide equal educational opportunities for all students.

The biggest problem for the integration of foreign immigrant students is the gradual abandonment of the policy of openness and inclusiveness that made Denmark a dynamic country. Far-right and conservative parties are scoring historically high: the nationalist Danish People’s Party was a coalition government member from 2001 to 2011 and from 2015 to 2019. This has led the liberal-conservative right to move closer to far-right themes by proposing a policy of defiance towards immigration. In a sign of distrust of European integration, a referendum was held in December 2015 on Denmark’s continued membership of Europol (confirmed by a slight majority of 53%). Since 2019, although the far right is not a member of the coalition government, the executive led by Mette Frederiksen has pursued a harsh nationalist immigration policy.[6].

Economic Challenges

Spending on social protection in Denmark is among the highest in the OECD but still lags behind countries such as Belgium, France and Finland. In fact, it’s not a question of spending but of the willingness to continue spending on social protection. Like many countries, Denmark faces a shortage of qualified teachers, particularly in certain subject areas and remote regions. The profession’s low attractiveness, heavy workload, and limited career advancement opportunities have contributed to this challenge. The Danish government has taken steps to address this issue, including increasing teacher salaries, providing professional development opportunities, and implementing recruitment campaigns. However, sustained efforts are necessary to attract and retain talented educators, ensuring a high-quality teaching workforce nationwide. Textbooks, course materials, and other study resources can be costly for students, particularly in fields that require specialized materials or equipment. The expense of study materials can pose a financial challenge, especially for students from low-income backgrounds who may struggle to afford these additional costs. Access to libraries, online resources, and institutional support for affordable study materials can help alleviate this barrier.

The issue is that Denmark has gradually deconstructed its welfare state. The Danish welfare state is not socialist or even communist in inspiration but liberal. Social protection is based on a universal model, i.e., it benefits all citizens without any prior income condition, as is the case in the Beveridgian or French welfare state system.[7]. The idea is to facilitate the integration of individuals into the capitalist market: not to reduce inequalities but to promote equal opportunities. Inequality reduction ultimately aims for the total extinction of pauperism, while equal opportunity aims to grant citizens a certain number of similar rights. Denmark’s neoliberal shift is part of a Scandinavian neoliberal shift of the 2010s. The Danish executive has chosen to “empower” its citizens by tightening access to social benefits. In the case of Danish students, for example, benefits for students with learning difficulties have been abolished altogether.  

The campus area of the Danish Design School photographed in 2010 while it was located in the former buildings of the Finsen Institute at Strandboulevarden in the Østerbro district of Copenhagen. Photo by Danmarks Designskole – The Danish Design School.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Denmark’s commitment to education is commendable, but it faces several challenges that require attention and targeted interventions. Addressing socioeconomic disparities, integrating immigrant students, attracting and retaining qualified teachers, reforming assessment practices, facilitating smooth transitions, and leveraging technology are critical focus areas.

Finding affordable and suitable housing can be a challenge for students, especially in cities with high rental prices. Accommodation costs can consume a significant portion of a student’s budget, leaving limited funds for other essential expenses. To address this issue, Denmark provides student housing options at affordable rates through housing associations, student dormitories, and rental subsidies. However, the demand for student housing often exceeds the available supply, creating additional challenges for students.

Increasing access to mental health services, providing comprehensive counselling programs, and integrating mental health education into the curriculum can help address stress-related issues and support students’ emotional well-being. Fostering a positive and inclusive school environment through anti-bullying initiatives, promoting social-emotional learning, and implementing effective behaviour management strategies can contribute to improved student happiness and engagement. Equipping teachers with training and professional development opportunities focused on mental health support, classroom management strategies, and fostering positive learning environments can enhance their ability to address student well-being and learning needs effectively. Given the scale of the problem, the Danish government should set up a dedicated budget to deal with the profound malaise of its pupils. More psychiatrists, reeducation of school time and fewer lectures are possible solutions.

Ongoing challenges persist in integrating immigrant students into the Danish educational system. Continued investment in language programs, intercultural training, tailored support services, and community engagement will further strengthen the integration of immigrant students and promote educational success and social cohesion in Denmark. Maintaining a policy of openness and inclusiveness must be a top priority for public authorities.

Addressing socioeconomic disparities in the Danish educational system requires a multi-faceted approach that focuses on providing equal opportunities, enhancing access to resources, and promoting inclusive practices. This involves implementing targeted support programs for vulnerable students, investing in high-quality early childhood education, improving infrastructure and resources in disadvantaged schools, expanding access to guidance and support services, and fostering a culture of high expectations and educational aspirations for all students.

By addressing these challenges, Denmark can further enhance its education system, foster equal opportunities for all students, and prepare its youth for the demands of the 21st century.


Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, “Denmark: ensuring equal opportunities for students across socio-economic backgrounds”, Education at a Glance 2021 : OECD Indicators, OECD, 2021.

Human Practice Foundation, “Main challenges and barrier to education in Denmark”, Human Practice Foundation, December 2021.

Roberts, Michael, “Denmark : the happy social-democrat model?”, Counterfire, November 2022.

Marcellin, Anastasia, “Why Denmark’s vaunted school system is showing signs of wear”, The Local, July 2019.

Math, Susheela, “Denmark’s “Ghetto Package” and the intersection of the right to housing and non-discrimination”, Human Rights Watch International, March 11th, 2011.

[1] Roberts, Michael, “Denmark : the happy social-democrat model?”, Counterfire, November 2022.

[2] Math, Susheela, “Denmark’s “Ghetto Package” and the intersection of the right to housing and non-discrimination”, Human Rights Watch International, March 11th, 2011. “Thousands of people across Denmark face eviction from their homes under the country’s “Ghetto Package,” which seeks to “eradicate” “ghettos” by 2030.  The State distinguishes “ghettos” from other areas with the same socio-economic factors on the basis that the majority of residents are of what it calls “non-Western background.” (literatim).

[3] Marcellin, Anastasia, “Why Denmark’s vaunted school system is showing signs of wear”, The Local, July 2019.

[4] Human Practice Foundation, “Main challenges and barrier to education in Denmark”, Human Practice Foundation, December 2021.

[5] Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, “Denmark: ensuring equal opportunities for students across socio-economic backgrounds”, Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators, OECD, 2021.

[6] The Danish government wants asylum seekers to be systematically sent to a third country (preferably far from Denmark: that’s the subtext) while their application is processed.

[7] In the Beveridgian system, social benefits are granted according to the needs of each social category, not indiscriminately. This system is the basis of social protection in France.

Educational challenges in Sri Lanka

Written by Sara Ahmed

Students report high pressure when attending school – Photo by Groundviews.


Education lays the foundation for political, social and economic development of any country. The literacy rate of Sri Lankans in 2020 was 92.38%. However, Sri Lanka still faces many other challenges in the educational field. The downside of the free educational system of Sri Lanka and the lack of responsiveness of the educational system to the labour market requirements will be discussed below.

The downside of the free educational system in Sri Lanka

Since 1994, the Sri Lankan government, initiated a free education system for the public without any discrimination. The State provides free education at primary, secondary and university levels that is compulsory for children between five and 16 years of age. This had pushed the country forward into a leading position in the South Asian region in terms of literacy rate, gender parity, school enrolment rate and human quality index. However, it has been criticized for not being progressively improved and developed to cope with the changing world.

The Sri Lankan culture is highly education oriented rather than consumption and entertainment oriented. As a result, a significant proportion of the household income is spent by the parents on their children’s education. It has been a long dream of most of the parents to send their children to a state university. However, according to the reports of the Department of Census and Statistics there are about 300,000 students that annually sit for the Advanced Level Examination and approximately only a 60% percent of them are qualified for the university entrance. Nevertheless, out of these qualified students just about 15% are selected to the state universities of Sri Lanka leaving the rest of the people (85%) losing their dream to enter state university education.

Free education does play a key role today but insufficient government spending on education has led to a marked decline in educational standards in the country. Consequently, there is an emerging demand and social pressure for establishing private universities in certain fields of studies. The concept of private universities has been severely criticized and opposed by the majority of state university students’ movements and some of the social pressure groups. A solution for this could be to increase the annual university entrance intake while allocating additional resources to universities to accommodate them.        Due to lack of resources, certain examinations have become so competitive in Sri Lanka. For instance, the first government examination of a student; the Grade five scholarship has become more competitive than other examinations. That is because those who obtain better higher marks are eligible to have a good school and also good funds. Thus, parents force students to work hard for this exam. However, this pressure to take an examination since childhood has a bad impact on the mental stability of the students.

Another downside of the free educational system is the fact that the Sri Lankan government does not always have the resources to update the curriculums, teaching methods, courses, and career paths and the gap between free and quality education becomes bigger and bigger. Proper planning, better resource allocations, and more funds would certainly benefit the education system.

Disparities in access to quality education

Although Sri Lanka has managed to achieve high levels of literacy, it has been unable to provide students with high quality educational services. Sri Lanka ranks poorly in terms of science and math education and internet access in schools. Sri Lanka’s efforts have been primarily concentrated on basic education (particularly secondary), with much less focus on higher levels of education, such as universities. In order to participate successfully in the knowledge economy, the country will have to increase quality inputs such as IT access, constructive and effective teaching, better math and science education, whilst constantly consolidating existing high levels of literacy.          

Children’s access to ICT is low.  Few students and even fewer teachers are IT literate. Even in the elite public schools, access to computer facilities, defined by the student to computer ratio is well over 1:100. Computers alone are not enough to provide students with the comprehensive skills needed to use computers. This training should be supplied by capable teachers who are skilled in not only teaching students how to use them, but also using computers, themselves, in daily lessons and incorporating them into teaching methods.

Another issue is the lack of responsiveness of the educational system to the labour market requirements. While concentrating on exams, the products of this education system are fulfilled with knowledge, but less on practical activities. This is a major problem in the educational system of Sri Lanka. Many people have the theoretical knowledge, but they can’t perform well in their professions because they don’t have much practice on those things. This creates issues in the labour market and leads to a gap between theoretical and practical knowledge.

Covid-19 response

Sri Lanka was very prone to a fast spread of the virus mainly due to its tourism sector. One of the main challenges of the Covid measures in the educational sector in Sri Lanka was the fact that the distance learning modalities could not be uniformly applied across the nation as children have varying levels of access to laptops, mobile phones, TV, radio and the broader infrastructure that supports these systems. Students in remote areas for example, have no to very little access to internet and mobile phones/laptops. Hence, school closures have led to inequity in access to and participation in learning. For teachers in Sri Lanka, there were similar struggles in delivering the curriculum through distance learning modalities.

The teachers interviewed for the case study of UNESCO claimed to not have received any training on information and communications technology (ICT) or distance learning and had often had to teach themselves or find other creative solutions to keep teaching to its students. The UNESCO research shows that a major lack in the educational sector, which also existed before COVID, was the lack of monitoring systems which is needed to ensure and effective system of education. UNESCO, in its report, also recommended Sri Lanka to implement an effective monitoring system in the education field.


Access to education in Sri Lanka is free and has resulted to high literacy rates of the country. However, the education system is extremely competitive and poor physical and mental health of the school students due to heavy workload, competition, and pressure from the parents for getting better results is an issue that has not been cared and concerned for by the policy makers. It is therefore recommended for Sri Lanka to consider the impact of the workload on the students’ physical and mental health and divert the focus from classroom learning to activity-based learning to create better responsiveness from the education system to the labour market requirements. The whole world is changing, and Sri Lanka should always try to move parallelly with everything including facilities, systems, and technologies.



  • Iqbal Ahmad et al, ‘Critical analysis of the problems of education in Pakistan: possible solutions’, IJERE (3:2) June 2014
  • Kingsley Karunaratne Alawattegama, ‘Free Education Policy and it’s Emerging Challenges in Sri Lanka’, University of Sri Jayewardenepurra,
  • Macrotrends, ‘Sri lanka Literacy rate 1981-2023’ <> last accessed on 22 April 2023
  • Rameez et al, Impact of Covid-19 on Higher Education Sectors in Sri Lanka: A Study based on South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, Journal of Educatiional and Social Researcg (volume 10, No 6, November 2020).
  • Rev Minuwangoda Gnanawasa, ‘A Study of a few recognised educational issues faced by Sri Lanka at Present’ (APCAR 2017),
  • Social Protection Toolbox, ‘Sri Lanka’s Universal Education System’
  • Team Next Travel Sri Lanka, ‘All About Free Education in Sri Lanka’ (2021),
  • UNESCO, Sri Lanka: Case Study: ‘Situation Analysis on the Effects of and Responses to COVID-19 on the Education Sector in Asia’ (2021)

Education Challenges in China

Written by Luna A. Duran van Tijn

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ([OECD], 2016) “China has the largest education system in the world”, with almost 260 million students and over 15 million teachers in about 514,000 schools. While China prides itself in its advancements in the educational sector and has in fact paid a great deal of attention to its shortcomings, this article reveals that with such a large system come many challenges.

Setting the stage: China’s education system

Education bears great importance for the Chinese government (OECD, 2016). China has continued to invest heavily in its educational system on an absolute basis. Over the past 10 years, China has raised its educational spending by an average of 19%. With its belief that education is the foundation for national growth and modernisation, ensuring the compatibility of the system with the nation’s rate of such growth and modernisation as well as new educational demands and trends has meant continuous modifications and development in education reforms and programmes (OECD, 2016).

A particularly significant development in Chinese educational history was the Law on Compulsory Education passed in 1986, which held that all school-age children of Chinese nationality are entitled to compulsory education, and parents are responsible for registering their children in school and ensuring that they complete the required nine years of education (OECD, 2016). This law built an exhaustive system, outlining standards for schools, instructors, teaching and learning, as well as for funding education and the legal responsibilities of social sectors.  Since the legislation was changed in 2006, all students enrolled in compulsory education are now exempt from paying tuition and other fees. Moreover, according to the law’s 2015 revision, textbook prices are limited to marginal profit (OECD, 2016).

As to the specifics, China’s education system is managed by the state, with limited involvement from private companies, and continues to grow more decentralised (OECD, 2016). The Ministry of Education has recently moved away from direct control of the educational system and towards system-wide monitoring, directing educational reform through legislative initiatives, plans, financial support, informational services, policy recommendations, and administrative tools. Governments at the county level are in charge of running and providing education in schools. Most of the time, provincial governments are in charge of managing higher education institutions (OECD, 2016).

As has been previously stated, students must complete nine years of compulsory education (OECD, 2016). Figure 2 presents a chart with an overview of the organisation of China’s education system. Prior to the 1990s, secondary schools accepted students based on the results of admission exams. The government has replaced the entrance exam for secondary school with a policy of mandatory enrollment based on the area of residence (hukou) to emphasise the compulsory nature of junior secondary schools and as part of an attempt to shift the focus of education away from test scores and towards a more integrated approach to learning (OECD, 2016).

Students have the option to continue with senior secondary education after completing the compulsory education (OECD, 2016). General senior secondary, technical or specialised secondary, adult secondary, vocational secondary, and crafts schools are the five different categories of senior secondary schools in China. Prior to enrolling in senior secondary schools, students must take the Zhongkao, a public test whose results determine admission. The government assigns pupils to various senior secondary schools based on these scores. In recent years, China has made major efforts to increase enrollment in secondary vocational schools in order to satisfy the rapidly changing economic and labour demands of the nation. Despite the fact that senior secondary education is not required in China, 95% of junior secondary school graduates completed their studies there in 2014, a particularly significant figure considering it was only around 40% in 2005 (OECD, 2016).

The first ten years of the twenty-first century saw a significant increase in tertiary education in China as well (OECD, 2016). The gross enrollment ratio for postsecondary education in China increased from 21% in 2006 to 39% in 2014. Various institutions and initiatives were founded during this time, and there was a significant increase in the promotion of international collaboration and mobility. The tertiary education system become more varied as a result. Undergraduate programmes’ admissions are based on students’ college entrance examination (gaokao) scores. Admissions at the graduate level are based on another entrance examination (OECD, 2016).

Main challenges to the Chinese education system 

  1. Too large an emphasis on tests 

As has been touched on in the Background section, test scores play a highly significant role in the education system in China. Although the country has replaced the entrance exam for secondary school with hukou, senior secondary education and undergraduate as well as graduate programmes still heavily rely on evaluation scores.

A departure from the former system, a New Curriculum Reform has been underway since 2001 that addresses every aspect of the educational system, including educational philosophy, goal, content, methodology, and assessment systems at all educational levels (OECD, 2016). The new approach changes the examination-focused study mode to lessen the load on the students by relying on a variety of metrics for student achievements. The goal of this new evaluation method is to assist students in realising their potential, understanding who they are, and gaining confidence. Teachers should be able to examine and enhance their teaching techniques with the aid of the evaluation system. The new assessment system mandates periodic evaluation of curriculum implementation and study of implementation-related issues in order to assist schools in developing their curriculum systems (OECD, 2016).

Major adjustments are also being made to the gaokao (OECD, 2016). In 2014, the State Council released formal recommendations for the gaokao system overhaul. To lessen the impact of standardised testing, changes have been made to examinations at various levels. This examination reform attempts to create a contemporary examination system made up of standardised exams, thorough evaluation, and various admittance criteria. It also seeks to support overall education system change. As agreed upon with the central government, Shanghai and the province of Zhejiang will serve as the new system’s experimental pilot regions. Each province has created its own strategy to implement this change. Other towns and provinces have also revealed their own reform initiatives for the gaokao, including Beijing, Jiangsu and Guangdong (OECD, 2016).

Still, however, many sources within China as well as reports highlight the still-existing emphasis on test scores. In an article by Didi Kristen Tatlow (2014) in the New York Times, professor of education at the University of Oregon Yong Zhao revealed that the fundamental disregard for children’s individuality, hobbies, and passions in the Chinese educational system has resulted in a uniform student body. Because it compels students to spend practically all of their free time studying for exams, it leaves little time for leisurely pursuits like exercise. The intense rivalry also puts Chinese students under a lot of stress, which can harm their confidence and impair their self-esteem. Zhao also claimed a meaningful education, which focuses more on assisting each kid in growing than on pressuring them to get high test scores, is hampered in China by an overemphasis on test results (Tatlow, 2014).

In another article, one by Mark Kitto (2012) for Prospect Magazine, the focus on testing and scores is further illustrated as Kitto states that “the domestic Chinese lower education system does not educate. It is a test centre. The curriculum is designed to teach children how to pass them.” He continues, “schools do not produce well-rounded, sociable, self-reliant young people with inquiring minds. They produce winners and losers. Winners go on to college or university to take “business studies.” Losers go back to the farm or the local factory their parents were hoping they could escape” (Kitto, 2012).

Finally, reports on Chinese schools have led education experts to contend that this emphasis on exam-based education is the main cause of China’s high dropout rate (Moxley, 2010). A study by Northeast Normal University’s Institute of Rural Education from May claimed that the dropout rate in some rural areas was as high as 40 percent. The findings were ascribed in the research to “school weariness,” or exhaustion and apathy brought on by memorization drills and cramming (Moxley, 2010).

  1. A cutthroat system and mental health 

Worthy of its own section, albeit related to the previous challenge ascribed to the large emphasis on test scores, are the consequences on the mental health of Chinese students as a result of the harsh educational system in China.

According to the Annual Report on China’s Education (2014), or the Blue Book of Education, researchers closely examined 79 elementary and middle school suicide cases from 2013 and discovered that nearly all – 92 percent – occurred after a teen had experienced stress related to school, in some cases an argument with a teacher (Xinying, 2014). The second part of the school year, when children often suffer higher stress because of high school and college admission examinations, saw a 63 percent increase. The study included cases such as that of a middle school student in Hohhot who committed suicide by jumping off a building after learning that his test scores had dropped and of a 13-year-old boy in Nanjing who hanged himself at home for failing to finish his homework. The case of a girl in Sichuan province who cut her wrist and ingested poison afterlearning the results of her college entrance exam was also included. Suicides like these reveal the immense pressure students feel in China as a result of their studies, a concerning image of its educational system (Xinying, 2014).

  1. The rural-urban gap 

A third, rather crucial challenge to China’s education system has to do with the large gap between access to education in rural China compared to its urban counterparts.

China’s unprecedented levels and rates of urbanisation, with the urban population approximately tripling, hundreds of millions of Chinese have seen their quality of life improve and transformed by urbanisation (OECD, 2016). Nonetheless, it has also brought forth a number of significant societal problems. Among the most important issue is equal access to education. Not only should every child have access to school, but they should also have equal access to quality education.

Although the Chinese government has prioritised educational equity in compulsory education through a number of programmes in order to narrow the rural-urban gap, these have only solved a part of the problem (OECD, 2016). For instance, improvements have been made in infrastructural areas but even while the educational environment is improved, other considerations, such as fewer opportunities for advancement and a poorer standard of living in rural regions, make the teaching force deficit a significant issue. In this regard, policies have been made to attract more teachers in rural areas, but there is more required than just policies; broader efforts to improve social and economic opportunities in less developed parts of the country need to be addressed first (OECD, 2016).

An opinion piece by Helen Gao (2014) for the New York Times also explores this, arguing that “While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and well-trained teachers, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to graspadvanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors.” Additionally, she highlights research showing that a candidate from Beijing has a 41-fold higher chance of being accepted to ‘Peking University’ than a comparable applicant from the underdeveloped, predominantly rural province of Anhui (Gao, 2014).

Gao’s (2014) piece also connected the rural-urban gap to corruptive practices, stating “Parents fork out tens of thousands of dollars under the guise of “voluntary donations” to secure a slot for their children in elite elementary schools. (…) Further advantage can be purchased by parents who can pay handsomely to hire teachers to offer extra tutoring to their children, a practice discouraged by the authorities but widespread in reality” (Gao, 2014).

An added challenge to the presented gap stems from the hukou system (OECD, 2016). Large-scale internal migration brought on by China’s economic growth has substantial educational implications for both families and the government. With neighbourhood residency as the main basis for determining school enrolment in China, this means that migrant children must remain the same as their place of birth. Those who choose to remain with their parents will have restricted access to schooling  (OECD, 2016). Gao (2014) also touches on the effects of this as she explains that the hukou system denies rural children the right to enter urban public schools, forcing many of these migrant children to attend private schools that charge higher tuition fees. The unfortunate reality for many, she states, is that they “have no choice but to send their children back to their rural hometowns. Then, on the other hand, there are the children who separate from their parents and stay in their home regions, commonly referred to as “left-behind” children. They, more often than not, suffer from both mental health and educational effects (Gao, 2014).

  1. Authoritarianism in higher education

According to political scientist Elizabeth J. Perry (2015), China’s Communist party-state has created a variety of techniques to monitor and control student behaviour. Politically dependable peers serve as the leaders of the “homerooms” (banji) and “class years” (nianji)  and act as a conduit for information to and from the university administration. Peer pressure and oversight are integrated into the professional monitoring hierarchy. The “guidance counsellors” (fudaoyuan), trained employees entrusted with maintaining careful tabs on their student charges to ensure that their ideas and behaviour do not cross predetermined lines, form the cornerstone of the control system.  These guidance counsellors, who are aided by student informants, report directly to the deputy party secretaries responsible for student work (Perry, 2015).

These control procedures have even “modernised” in recent years thanks to new methodologies and tools (Perry, 2015). For instance, mental health facilities are now a common sight on Chinese college campuses. However, in China, the term “mental illness” is used to refer to beliefs and tendencies that the government deems to be politically dangerous, and the findings of the required mental health screenings given to first-year students are shared with political cadres for analysis and potential preventative or punitive action. Furthermore, the proliferation of the internet and social media has made it possible to gauge (and direct) student opinion in yet another “modernised” way. Counsellors and cadres counteract suspicious or subversive information on popular social media platforms (such as Weibo and WeChat) by commissioning counter-posts that support the officially sanctioned viewpoint in addition to censoring it (Perry, 2015).

In an effort to sway student sentiment in favour of the CCP’s objectives, the party-state uses both proactive and reactive methods (Perry, 2015). Military training (junxun) and ideological and political education (sixiang zhengzhi jiaoyu) have been required courses at universities since the 1990s. These lessons and activities aim to instil dispositions and conduct that support the dictatorship. Teaching “cultural proficiency” (wenhua sushi) and “national character” (guoqing), which present Chinese history, art, philosophy, and literature in ways that present a natural relationship and fundamental compatibility between the splendours of China’s ancient “tradition” and its modern “socialist” system, has gained importance in recent years. As such, universities are a crucial element of a vast party-state project in cultural governance that aims to persuade people that CCP rule is justified by “Chinese characteristics” that make it both essential and natural (Perry, 2015).

Key takeaways

Although education in China has become a priority in recent decades, and has made great progress in its achievements and reforms, the country still faces some significant challenges. From an overemphasis on test scores that fail to create more well-rounded students and has adverse effects on students’ mental health to discrepancies brought about by the rural-urban gap, China needs to reform their zhongkao, gaokao and hukou systems to ensure a more balanced, equitable, quality education for all.

The fourth challenge discussed in this article, namely the control and subtle propaganda systems infiltrating the higher education levels in China, from a democratic perspective, limits students’ ability to form essential critical abilities. This challenge in particular is one that seems difficult to see addressed as it is actively pursued by the government and would therefore, rather than be seen as a challenge, be seen as a tool.  This makes this challenge particularly complex.


Reference list 

Chen, Y. (2017). Issues of the Chinese Education System. Leadership Society of Arizona.

Gao, H. (2014). China’s Education Gap. The New York Times.

Kitto, M. (2012). You’ll Never be Chinese. Prospect Magazine.

Moxley, M. (2010). CHINA: Alarming School Dropout Rate Blamed on Teaching Methods. Global Issues.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2016). Education in China. A Snapshot.

Perry, E. J. (2015). Higher Education and Authoritarian Resilience: The Case of China, Past and Present. Harvard-Yenching Institute Working Paper Series.

Tatlow, D. K. (2014). Q. and A.: Yong Zhao on Education and Authoritarianism in China. The New York Times.

Xinying, Z. (2014). School Tests Blamed for Suicides. China daily