Wed, Jul 04, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Burden of China’s college entrance test triggers wide debate

Critics question the value of the ‘gaokao’ as it leads to psychological strain on students

By Edward Wong  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJIN

Gao Haicheng, a junior high-school student from Kunming, said he planned to apply to universities abroad rather than to ones in China. Though avoiding the gaokao exam is not his main aim, Gao said the exam “is a big problem in China’s education system.”

“In China, they only use marks to explain something,” he added, referring to the emphasis placed on the gaokao score.

Each year, cheating scandals become the talk of China. One common tactic was for students to give their identification cards to look-a-likes, hired to take the test. As a result, many provinces installed fingerprint scanners at test-centers. In 2008, three girls in Jiangsu Province were caught with mini- cameras inside their bras. Their aim was to transmit images of the exam to people outside the classroom who would then provide them with the exam answers. This year, the big scandal involved students in Huanggang, Hubei Province, which in the past decade was famous for churning out students with high scores. Last month, several dozen students were caught for using small monitors, costing nearly US$2,500, that resembled erasers and that allowed the students to receive electronic messages providing exam answers.

Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University who has studied the education system, said the main problem was the lack of slots for students at universities. Despite a boom in university construction in China in recent years, there is still a shortage. This year, there are 7 million university slots, 2 million slots short of the number of gaokao test takers. The gap was much wider in 2006 —in that year there were 5.3 million slots for 9.5 million test takers. The drop in the number of students taking the gaokao can be attributed to demographic trends in China and the rise in the number of students opting to study abroad.

“Many people criticize the gaokao, but I think they somewhat miss the most crucial point, which is that the supply of slots for students at decent academic institutions falls short of the demand from the public,” Zhang said.

Students who have received their gaokao scores and are now submitting their choices for universities expect to hear the results this month. Yang said that he had put down the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology as his top choice. However, he said that if he had done better than his score of 517, out of a possible 750, he might have put down the Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin.

“I did the best in my class, so I’m pretty happy with the result,” he said. “So are my parents and most of my friends. However, it’s not high enough to get me into the school I’m longing to attend.”

Additional reporting by Christy Khoshaba and Jacob Fromer

Note: names of students unfindable. couldn’t even find the talk show host

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