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Gaokao reforms should be prudent, steady, experts say

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-19 07:23


Students study into the night for the gaokao, China's college entrance exam, in Jimo, Shandong province, earlier this month.Liang Xiaopeng / For China Daily

With this year's highly competitive college entrance exam approaching, educators are weighing reforms to the system.

The exam, known as the gaokao, is of vital importance to millions of students and their families, as well as other stakeholders, said Tan Songhua, of the Ministry of Education's educational development research center.

It is of utmost importance that changes to the system are carried out in a prudent and steady manner, and that they balance numerous conflicting interests, Tan said.

In an article published on Tuesday, Tan said reforms need to bring a greater degree of professionalism to the student enrollment system, with staff trained in proper enrollment procedures and dispute resolution.

Coordination between governments, schools and society is necessary to satisfy the interests of people from different regions and ethnic groups, Tan said.

The annual test takes place over two or three days and the scores are a major determinant of students' academic futures.

The exam has been criticized for an overemphasis on grades and a forced division of science and liberal arts, with students obliged to choose one path or the other at an early stage.

In 2017, however, things will be different. Changes first proposed in September 2014 are due to be fully implemented by 2020, overhauling not only the exam itself, but also college enrollments.

Pilot regions including Shanghai and Zhejiang will be the first areas to feel the effects of the new measures. Students who started senior high school in 2014, the year the reforms began, will take their exams this year. The new process was officially defined by the Shanghai government in March.

Now, students have more choice in their applications and their preference of major is given equal consideration.

"It means students have more of a say in their future," said Zhou Hong, head of enrollment at NYU Shanghai. "Students have a better chance of securing a place on their preferred course and this puts them on track toward their academic dreams."

"It also means students must think more about their career path," he said.

Changes to the application system were triggered by changes to the exams. In Shanghai, for example, exams in sciences and liberal arts are no longer rigidly divided into two mutually exclusive sets.

Wu Jiang of Tongji University in Shanghai said the change would put an end to the previous labels of "liberal arts students" and "science students".

"Our ideal student has knowledge of both," he said.

Zhou Aoying, vice-president of East China Normal University, agreed. "Students have more choice of major now as there are fewer limitations," he said.

The new system, however, is not without its opponents. Chen, a senior high school student from Hangzhou, is one of many perplexed by the changes.

It is too hard for a high school student to decide their future at this age, Chen's mother complained.

For educators, the reforms have raised the bar.

In his article, Tan said the reforms had already forced basic education, higher education and occupational education sectors to make changes.

"Colleges, middle schools and even primary schools should now help students explore where they want to head in the future," said Chen Jun, a high school principal in Shanghai.


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