Comparing Life during the Pandemic for High School Students in China, US, Japan and South Korea

Confidence in the future highest among Chinese high school students

Some 94.6% of Chinese high school students said they regard their studies as a highly valuable investment for their future. This is a significantly higher percentage than their U.S., Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

After the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19, the disease spread rapidly and widely, creating a formidable public health emergency that is difficult to prevent or control. The pandemic has greatly impacted individual and social development around the world. The impact is more serious for developing adolescents. Consequently, families, schools and society face the common challenge of mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the healthy growth of teenagers.

The China Youth & Children Research Center,in conjunction with research institutions abroad conducted a survey titled “Life of High School Students in China, U.S., Japan and South Korea During the Pandemic” in December 2021. The study primarily focused on comparing the high school students’ academics, athletics, interpersonal skills, self-perception, and psychological and emotional states.

This study’s research method mainly relied on a questionnaire. The same questionnaire was simultaneously administered to students across the four countries. The respondents were students in the last three years of their high school education and included 3,435 Chinese, 1,784 Americans, 4,132 Japanese and 1,838 Koreans. The Chinese students came from 24 middle schools in Beijing, Liaoyang, Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Xi’an and Chengdu.

The research group conducting the survey published the results today in China Youth Daily, the official paper of the Communist Youth League of China. The comparative data in the well-documented report is thought-provoking and broadens our perspective.

The development of China’s politics, economy and culture relies on a student body with fulsome self-confidence and a strong sense of identification with the nation. The survey shows that Chinese high school students are full of confidence in the future and optimistic, and have clearer goals than their overseas counterparts. Compared with high school students from the other three surveyed countries, Chinese students are more likely to aspire to prestigious universities.

Some 88.5% of Chinese high school students said they were “hopeful about my future”; 94.6% reported that “studying is important for preparing for my future”; and 71% said they have “already set my future goals.” In these areas, Chinese students polled significantly higher than their counterparts in the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Some 67.9% of Chinese high school students agreed that “living in the present is better than being anxious about the future,” placing them slightly lower than South Korean respondents (69.8%) but higher than the Americans (67.2%) and Japanese (66.7%).

Furthermore, the proportion of Chinese high school students that claimed to be “uneasy about my future” was significantly lower by more than 30 percentage points than U.S., Japanese and South Korean respondents. Evidently, Chinese high school students are more confident in the future, have clear goals, are willing to study hard for the future and are more optimistic about the current situation.

Compared to the other three countries, China has a far higher proportion of high school students who aspire to prestigious universities.

The survey found Chinese high school students have the highest aspirations across multiple goals, including admission to a prestigious university (91.7%), receiving a high salary (92.6%), building an interesting life (95.3%), being at ease and having time for recreation (94.2%), contributing to society (95.4%), possessing qualifying professional skills and competencies (92.6%) and achieving high social status (82.0%).

The data show that Chinese high school students have clear goals for the future; they are hopeful they can develop their interests, attend good universities, have high incomes, create happy families and contribute to society. This shows that they both pursue their values for themselves and for their society. Compared with the high school students in the other three countries, the biggest difference is in seeking admission to prestigious universities, where the Chinese surveyed at 16 to 50 percentage points higher.

Chinese high school students are even more ambitious and optimistic now than they were before the pandemic.

In 2016, a research group consisting of collaborating high school students from China, the U.S., Japan and South Korea conducted surveys on the expectations and goals of high school students from their countries. Comparing their results to the “Life of High School Students in China, U.S., Japan and South Korea During the Pandemic” survey, it was found that Chinese high school students’ expectations and goals have increased since the outbreak of the pandemic. The most significant areas of increase were in hopes to attend a prestigious university, to contribute to society and to become leaders, all increasing by 10-11 percentage points. The proportion of ambitious Japanese high school students also increased in most of the areas surveyed, especially in hopes to obtain high income (+8%) and to hold a leadership role (+3%), but there was a decline in optimism about entering a prestigious university (-6%) or achieving high social status (-3%). Across the board the percentage of U.S. high school students with high expectations and goals declined. The largest declines were in hopes for admission into prestigious universities (-8%), obtaining high social status (-10%) and holding a leadership role (-5%). Korean high school students responded negatively to most of the survey questions about future goals, revealing a decline in optimism. The largest declines were in ability to contribute to society (-13%) followed by ability to build a happy family (-9%).

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