A Great Adventure: Teaching Chemistry in China | Maarit Korhonen

The chemistry lab of Qilu University of Technology (Picture: Maarit Korhonen, 2015).

In this article teaching and learning chemistry in China is described. The writer and her spouse have taught chemistry in Qilu University of Technology in China, Shandong, Jinan. She will describe her experiences as a teacher and describe university education generally.

How the data was collected

The writer of this article taught the theory and the laboratories of surface chemistry in October 2015 in Qilu University of Technology. Teachers of Qilu University attended the lectures and helped to organize labs. They also helped in guiding students in the laboratory. The size of the student group was 21, 19 Chinese and two Finnish exchange students. The students were given the theory lectures first. The topics of theory were, for example, surface tension, soaps and detergents and viscosity. After the theory lectures the students carried out laboratories which helped them to understand the theory. The laboratories included basic measurements of surface tension and also production of commercial products such as grease remover, hair shampoo, and hand cleaner and car wax shampoo in a small scale. The student time for every lab was about 3-4 hours and during this time the teachers revised the theory related to the particular laboratory task and guided the students in using suitable glassware and other equipment. The students wrote reports about each task and the teachers evaluated them.The information about studying in China was collected during the autumn 2015 by discussing with Chinese exchange students in Finland, Chinese teachers and students and Finnish students who have studied Chemistry in China. The majority of the answers were received by emails. The questions were given beforehand and they concerned the entrance examination of Universities, the size of student groups in theory lessons and in laboratories, the amount of teaching hours and learning hours per 1 credit unit, the content of Bachelor and Master Studies, and the evaluation of courses in China.

Education system in China

In China, children start the school at the age 6 and then continue their studies about for 9 years before high school. The high school takes three years and the applicants prepare for the entrance examinations of universities for all of this time because the competition for university places is very hard. For example in 2014 the number of candidates for universities was about 9,390,000 and about 74.3% could be accepted by NCEE (National College Entrance Examination) and they started their studies in a university. If a candidate is not accepted to any university, or he or she is not accepted to the university he or she wanted, he or she can continue high school studies for one year more, and attend the NCEE again in the following year.

In Shang Don province, the examination of University of Technology (chemistry) consists of test on mathematics (max points 150), Chinese (150), English (150), and an integrated science course (300) (chemistry, physics, and biology). Other provinces have their own grade regulations. High scores from the entrance examination is a prerequisite in order to be accepted to a respected university in China.

Studies of Bachelor degree

Bachelor studies include basic courses, professional courses, optional courses, laboratories, practical training and thesis.

The size of groups in theory lectures and in labs varies from 20 to 40 students depending on the years and if the group is international or national. Mainly, the international groups are smaller than the national groups. There is a teacher and an assistant in laboratories with a big group. The assistant can be another teacher or a post graduate student.

Teaching hours of 1 credit vary between courses but in many cases it is about 14 hours lectures per 1 credit. The average amount of learning hours of students for 1 credit is about 25 hours.


The laboratory teaching system in China is very similar to the one in Finland. Students submit a pre laboratory report before experimental lessons, and after that, a teacher gives lectures about the principle of experiment, matters and equipment. Students carry out an experiment and use equipment individually. The teacher stays in the lab all the time so that students can ask for help any time. When students finish the lab work, they need to submit the experimental data before they leave the laboratory. Finally, students write a laboratory report about the experiment.

Practical training

Practical training periods take place as follows: in the second year students carry it out for 2 credits. The third year and fourth year students have practical training for 4 credits. These practical training periods are during a semester and 1 credit equals 1 week of working time in a company, in a university or in some other suitable workplace.


Studies of Bachelor degree include practical work and a written article which give 15 credits all together. It is carried out in some company or in a university.

Studies of Master degree

After Bachelor degree it is possible to continue to a Master’s level. However, before that it is necessary to pass a paper exam and an interview exam by a university that students apply for.  Recommendation letters give help for an applicant and therefore many Bachelor students ask for them in order to apply for a respected university in China or somewhere else.

For those wanting to study a Master’s degree, there is a nationwide and unified examinations held in December, the examination of engineering includes four exams: advanced mathematics, English, political and professional course exam. The examination of science includes English, political and two professional courses. The professional course exams depend on the major which an applicant wants to study.

There are two types of Master’s degrees (chemistry) in Qilu University of Technology. One is for academic students and the other is for people in working life. The students who have chosen an academic line complete their thesis in a university and the latter in companies, such as petroleum industry or any type of companies relative to chemistry and chemical engineering.

The studies of Master degree in chemistry include theoretical courses about for one year and working in a laboratory about for two years in order to write a thesis.


There are many ways to evaluate theory courses but here is one example: A final examination gives about 70% of points, homework and daily test (short test) about 20% and the attending of lectures about 10% from the total points. The attending of lectures is made sure by writing your name on a list in a lecture.

Laboratory courses can be evaluated for example in the following way: In the final examination of laboratories, the teacher picks up some students to take a working test.  If a student passes the test, he does not get extra grades, but if he cannot finish it successfully, he has to retake the laboratory work. Furthermore, all of these, working in laboratories, pre-tasks and reports have an effect on a final grade.

Unforgettable experience for a teacher

Chinese students have good skills in mathematics and they write reports which are easy to read and evaluate. The University have well-equipped laboratories and they follow the safety regulations. They have gloves, laboratory coats and safety goggles.

Teaching chemistry in China was an unforgettable experience.

Teaching chemistry in China was an unforgettable experience. Students were interested in the theory of chemistry and especially in the laboratory tasks. It was rewarding to teach because the students took part in lectures by asking questions and giving comments. Moreover, both students and teachers were very friendly and hospitable. They helped us in every practical issue and took care of our well-being.

We had useful meetings with teachers and directors of Qilu University of Technology. We could have a lot of opportunities to co-operate in teaching and learning of chemistry in the future.

More information about Chinese higher education system you can find in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Higher_Education_Entrance_Examination

About the author

Maarit Korhonen is a Senior Lecturer in School of Industrial Engineering of TAMK, Degree Programme in Bioproduct and Process Engineering