Reforms to the gaokao, the college entrance test that Chinese high school students take their senior year of high school to determine their college acceptance, are taking place in Shanghai and Zhejiang province.
The reforms widen the scope of subjects that students can test on and allow for tests throughout the high school career, rather than just one test senior year.
With the changes, students will still be tested on Chinese, math and English. But for the three remaining subjects, students in Shanghai and Zhejiang can choose to be tested on a wider range of topics from geography, history, chemistry, biology, physics and politics, among others
The idea behind it is that students are feel too much pressure senior year in the current system. There are also problems stemming from excessive memorization-based learning that “kills creativity.”
I have written about these problems in the past. Here are a few problems with Chinese education that gaokao reforms hope to solve, excerpted from articles I have written:
In China, the use of standards has fostered a high-pressure system that kills creativity.
“When [my son] Star was young, he was very imaginative,” Frank Chen, director of Asian operations for OnSpeX, said. “Now, he appears to be losing his creativity.”
“If he writes whatever he wants in an essay, he will get a bad grade, because the teachers do not like it. But there’s nothing to do about it. I want him to go to a good college. The teachers get bonuses if he goes to a good college.”
The gao kao college entrance exam is the big focus that all of a Chinese student’s experience leads up to. One test determines where students will attend college. Attending a good college will lead to getting a good job. Students will do anything to pass the gao kao, including receiving IV drips so they don’t have to eat, and, of course, using their parents’ guanxi. In 2011, a number of students’ tests were thrown out after it became known that they used connections with government officials to fake minority status and receive affirmative action benefits.
Doing well on the test involves a lot of hard studying and memorization. There are two tracks to the test: science track and humanities track. One student quoted in a Wall Street Journal article said, “For science track, a good score is over 720 – it’s much harder to get high marks on humanities because so many of the questions are open-ended rather than multiple choice.”
The pressure on rural students is much greater than city students, because rural students have to score higher to attend a good university. Most of the top universities, such as Beijing University and Fudan University (Shanghai) are in big cities, and local residents require lower scores to qualify for attendance.
“Beijing University is called ‘Beijing People University,’” Frank Chen, a Shanghai resident said, “because they enroll more local freshman than students from small cities.”
“Mr. Yu [Minhong] said, the whole country is concerned that currently the gaokao admissions policy is unfair, mainly in two points,” an article in iFeng news on March 8 said. “The first point is that there are major discrepancies between the acceptance rate of students from different provinces and cities to the top national universities. The second point is that the proportion of top national university resources allocated between city and rural areas is extremely out of balance. The imbalance between education resources in the city and countryside, and between different provinces and cities, has created an unequal situation for the gao kao and college entrance opportunities.”