How Different are the Elementary School Students in China and the United States?

There’s a common belief here in the U.S. that Chinese students have an advantage over American students. But a quick look at some key statistics raises an important question: How big of an advantage is it?

Elementary school students in China attend school for about nine hours a day, on average, starting around 7.30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Two of the nine hours are set aside for lunch break, leaving seven hours devoted to learning.

These students then spend another three hours a day on homework, with mathematics taking a huge chunk of the time, on average. Playtime is rare in most schools, and children who finish their homework on time are left with little time to play with friends (Zha 34).

Most of these children have good grades, with a 70% transition rate to the next level of classes, especially in areas near and in cities. Each year, more than six million students enroll in courses with China’s 2,000+ colleges and universities (Zha 62).

By comparison, elementary school students in the United States spend an average of seven and a half hours in school each day (with a 50-minute lunch break)[LW1] . Students typically start classes around 8.00 a.m. and finish by 3.30 p.m., then spend an average of one hour on homework (Ravitch 53). U.S. elementary students are also allotted more playtime,[LW2]  with an average of 30 minutes allocated to recess on any particular school day. [LW3]  What this means is that the typical elementary school student in China spends an average of three additional hours per day devoted to studying as compared to his U.S. counterpart.”

From the statistics cited above, it is clear that Chinese students spend more time in school and take home more homework as compared to their United States counterparts (Ravitch 87). Less time in the classroom, however, does not mean there is less learning taking place, as each education system is tailored to fit the needs of its respective students, and the average number of hours in a school term set to cover the entire curriculum. So while the average elementary school student in China spends notably more time in school than his or her U.S. counterpart, the student has only a slightly higher chance (3%) of transitioning successfully to the next level of education.



Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education 2016. New York: Basic Books, 2016.

Zha, Quiang. Education in China: Educational history, Models and Initiatives. Massachusets: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2013.