Gaokao reform aims to promote fairness, nurture versatile youth
A total of 9.75 million high school graduates across China have sat for gaokao, China’s national college entrance examination, on June 7 and 8, most of them being millennials born in the 2000s. The young students just took what’s billed by Chinese media as the “new gaokao”—part of a broader educational reform that intends to promote fair play and cultivate versatile youth.

Since last year, Shanghai and Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province, has spearheaded the “new gaokao” reform. In Zhejiang, a model named “trinity” was adopted by all of the local 50 universities along with nine renowned institutions including Peking University, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University.

Instead of using a one-time examination to jump into conclusions, the universities under the “trinity” program would take into consideration applicants’ performance in three exams including the national gaokao, the one for obtaining high school diploma and the one given by universities.

An admission officer with the Zhejiang University of Technology told the Xinhua News Agency that the evaluation through the “trinity” of exams turned out to be more effective in selecting students with potential.

According to the teacher, research showed that students chosen by the “trinity” system tend to be more active and adaptable. “After entering colleges, they boasted good scores and proved to be more capable in social activities.”

Chinese students and their parents tend to attach more importance to the brand name of universities than majors, which had prompted many high school graduates to enroll into prestigious universities for undergraduate programs they were not really attracted to.

The ongoing gaokao reform intends to highlight the significance of “majors” while playing down the importance of “high-level universities” included in the national research projects like 985 and 211. Under the new mechanism, those “obscure” programs “bolstered up” by the good names of universities must begin to really work hard while a mediocre school’s outstanding programs may finally have the chance to gain recognition.

The third most notable change would be for gaokao to finally call off bonus points for merit students, sports genius, winners in math or science contests and those who had performed outstanding deeds. The extra points have long been a subject of controversy with the people complaining that they have led to “insider dealing” that only benefits the privileged class.

The national college admission exam has gone through four decades of development since its resumption in 1977. Despite being criticized as the culprit for China’s examination-oriented education system, it is widely believed to be also the most reliable and effective channel for the disadvantaged to rise into prominence.

“Gaokao has brought significant changes to the society,” Dai Jiagan, the vice chairman of the Chinese Society of Education, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

One day in August 1977, Cheng Bingqian, a local official in East China’s Anhui province, was asked to go to Beijing at short notice to attend a meeting. “I set off without changing my clothes,” the now 87-year-old recalled. He had not imagined that the urgent meeting would usher in a new era for China.

The seminar chaired by the then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping focused on the government’s scientific and educational work, with attendants unanimously proposing to resume gaokao. Deng, China’s late paramount leader, clearly showed his support to the proposal and gaokao was brought back after 10 years of suspension during the Cultural Revolution period.

Cheng was soon assigned to work as an “admission officer” for colleges in Anhui, and for a quite long period, he was busy answering calls from all across the country. “Behind these phone calls are people’s hope for the future,” he said.

Gaokao has changed many people’s destinies. “Our future and the times we live were closely-knit,” Zhao Zhengguo, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said. In 1977, he was 21 years old and worked as a lathe worker. Through gaokao, Zhao got admitted into the physics department of the University of Science and Technology in 1978.

Zhang Wenping, a CAS academician, still clearly remembered his struggling youth when he tried to relieve the family’s financial burden by selling ice lolly on the streets. He could not imagine having a good future back then.

In 1984, Zhang was admitted by the mathematics department of the renowned Peking University. “Without gaokao, a kid like me would never get to leave the underdeveloped countryside area, not to mention becoming an academician,” he said.

Liu Haifeng, the director of Xiamen University Examination Office, told Xinhua that over 900,000 people enrolled into colleges during the first three years after gaokao was resumed, and most of them became the driving force for social and economic development. “China’s economic takeoff is closely related to the resumption of the exam.”

Based on statistics of the Ministry of Education, the number of Chinese students at colleges and universities in 2016 amounted to 36.99 million, the highest in the world.  


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