The development of primary education in so vast a country as China was a formidable accomplishment.
Under the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, primary schools were to be tuition-free and reasonably located for the convenience of children attending them; students would attend primary schools in their neighborhoods or villages. Parents paid a small fee per term for books and other expenses such as transportation, food, and heating. Fees were not considered a deterrent to attendance, although previously some parents felt even these minor costs were more than they could afford. Under the education reform, students from poor families received stipends, and state enterprises, institutions, and other sectors of society were encouraged to establish their own schools. A major concern was that scarce resources should be conserved without causing enrollment to fall and without weakening of the better schools. In particular, local governments were warned not to pursue middle-school education blindly while primary school education was still developing, or not to wrest money, teaching staff, and materials from primary schools.
Children usually entered primary school at seven years of age for five days a week. The two-semester school year consisted of 9.5 months, with a long vacation in July and August. Urban primary schools typically divided the school week into twenty-four to twenty-seven classes of forty-five minutes each, but in the rural areas the norm was half-day schooling, more flexible schedules, and itinerant teachers. Most primary schools had a five-year course, except in such cities as Beijing and Shanghai which had reintroduced six-year primary schools and accepted children at six and one-half years rather than seven. The primary school curriculum consisted of Chinese, mathematics, physical education, music, drawing, and elementary instruction in nature, history, and geography, combined with practical work experiences around the school compound. A general knowledge of politics and moral training which stressed love of the motherland, of the Party, and of the people (and previously of Chairman Mao), was another part of the curriculum. A foreign language, often English, was introduced in about the third grade. Chinese and mathematics accounted for about 60 percent of the scheduled class time; natural science and social science accounted of about 8 percent. Putonghua (mandarin) was taught in regular schools and pinyin romanization in lower grades and kindergarten. The State Education Commission required that all primary schools offer courses on communist ideology and morality. Most schools had after-hour activities at least one day per week — after organized by the Young Pioneers — to involve students in recreation and community service.
Preschool education, which began at age three and one-half, was another target of education reform in 1985. Preschool facilities were to be established in buildings made available by public enterprises, production teams, municipal authorities, local groups and families. The government announced that it depended on individual organizations to sponsor their own preschool education and that preschool education was to become a part of the welfare services of various government organization, institutes and state-owned and collectively-operated enterprises. Costs for preschool education varied according to services rendered. Officials also called for more preschool teachers with more appropriate training.