The world’s biggest examination, anxious parents outside classrooms and stressed out students under pressure to score. This could be the scene from India, but it happens every June during China’s national college entrance examination — a system India is now considering for Class 12.
China’s gao kao or ‘tall test’ for university admission and the road to a white-collar job creates a nationwide frenzy akin to our board examinations. This June, Chinese supervisors were not allowed to wear perfume and heels to avoid ‘distracting’ students, taxi drivers offered free rides and officials in a southwest city induced rain for cooler weather, according to the official Global Times.
At one level, the system is similar to Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal’s proposal for a uniform Class 12 examination.
But since 2002, China has given provinces the choice to develop and administer their own college entrance tests that are held the same day and based on a uniform national syllabus of the Ministry of Education.
“China is a big nation, like India, and the quality of education in regions varies,” professor Han Baocheng, an education expert at the National Research Centre for Foreign Language Education in the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told HT.
“In the past, we used a uniform test,” said Han. “But after 2002, provinces are allowed to develop their own tests based on the needs and quality of education in local provinces.”
China has conducted this examination since 1977. It is so competitive that the Chinese describe it as ‘thousands of troops on a single log bridge’. This month, 10.2 million 18-year-olds registered for it and officials estimated that only about six million of the students would enter college.
The 750-mark examination in compulsory mathematics, a foreign language (usually English) and Chinese, is held over two to three days across China. Students need to score at least 600-plus to enter the best universities. They also opt for a comprehensive test in science or humanities.
Critics say the system is flawed because, like in India, it encourages students to cram, stifles creativity and increases stress. Chinese students follow routines similar to Indian 18-year-olds. Zhou, 18, who passed the exam in June, told Hindustan Times she would wake up at 6 am, attend school from 7.30 am to 5 pm, head to evening tuitions and study past midnight. Like countless Chinese students, she aims for a ‘stable job’ as a civil servant or teacher but was still under pressure for admission to a good university.
“The reform of the system is still ongoing,” said Han. “It has worked well so far. Some provinces are exploring ways to reform their tests, including changing the test modules especially in the comprehensive test, or using different score reporting scales.”
For the first time since seven years, China recorded a 3.8 per cent drop in candidates this year, four lakh less than last year. Experts blamed it on the recession and the declining number of high school graduates. Chinese provinces also conduct a test similar to India’s Class 10 examination, for 15 or 16-year-olds to enter senior high school.