9.4 million Chinese students to take gaokao

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/6 23:38:40

As graduate salaries plunge, people question quality of higher education

Students and parents search through lists of test locations in Xuyi county, Jiangsu Province on Tuesday. Over 9 million Chinese students are expected to take the college entrance exam on Wednesday. Photo: IC


Some 9.4 million students are expected to take this year's national college entrance examinations Wednesday, or gaokao, despite some questioning whether the notoriously arduous test will lead to improved life chances in an era when social mobility in China appears to be stalling. 

Some 3.72 million students are expected to enroll in an undergraduate degree program following the examination, an increase of nearly 10,000 compared to 2016, according to the 2017 enrollment plan issued by the education ministry.

Central China's Henan Province has the largest number of gaokao takers, a total of 863,000 this year, an increase of 43,000 compared with 2016, local newspaper the Henan Daily reported.

The hashtag "Go for it, gaokao" has garnered more than 2.03 billion page views on Sina Weibo as of press time on Tuesday.

This year marks the 40th anniversary since China reinstated the gaokao at the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). More than 200 million people have become elites in their industry after passing the gaokao during the past 40 years, Chinese Business View reported Monday.

Although the gaokao has changed many people's lives, and helps the country to efficiently select talented students, an increasing number of people are questioning how far it can go to help people amid fierce competition in the labor market.

The China-wide average monthly salary for 2017's university graduates will be 4,014 yuan ($590), about 750 yuan less than last year, according to a report released by employment portal Zhilian Zhaopin on May 25.

In addition, only 26.7 percent of the 93,000 surveyed graduates had signed up for a job and one-third of those surveyed had not received any job offer by the end of April, said the report. It also found that 38.5 percent had accepted a job that was unrelated to their major.

With high competition for jobs as well as low salaries, many are questioning whether China's higher education system, whose admission is mostly decided by gaokao scores, is fit for the modern age. 

The function of the gaokao is to provide indicators to evaluate a student and offer him or her a chance to move to a higher social status, Xiong Bingqi, vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told the Global Times.

"It's unrealistic and unfair to expect the exams to guarantee a ticket to a successful life," he said. 

But the education provided by many universities in China is decoupled from social needs, said Xiong, adding that some colleges blindly expand their enrollment quotas while ignoring teaching quality and methodology, which only increases the number, instead of the ability, of graduates.

Universities should have more discretion to enroll students that suit its position, say academic or practical, or specializing in a certain area, Xiong added.

High price for success

In the lead up to the exams, families have been making last-minute preparations, to ensure that the students, most often the only child in the family, are able to get the highest score possible, thus gaining acceptance to a better university in a big city.

Parents pay top prices for extracurricular cramming sessions that promise their children can get better scores in the gaokao. One woman surnamed Xie from Changsha, Hunan Province spent 100,000 yuan for her daughter to take a three-month training session for the test. Similar training services are also provided in most cities, including Beijing, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.

The government is also assisting with measures, including heat control and noise abatement in and around examination venues to create an optimal environment for students.

Since last week, China's Ministry of Education has demanded tight security for the printing, transportation, storage, handing out and grading of exam papers to guard against leaks. GPS and monitoring facilities will also be used to prevent leaks.

To safeguard fairness, China has criminalized cheating in important exams since 2015.

According to an amendment to the Criminal Law in November 2015, cheaters can face up to seven years in prison. Cheaters will also be banned from taking any other national examination for three years.

Six teachers in Northeast China's Liaoning Province were sentenced to prison terms of one year to 26 months for helping students cheat in 2015's gaokao.

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