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An eventful 40-year journey for gaokao

By Wu Zheyu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-08 07:34

Editor's note: On the 40th anniversary of the resumption of the national college entrance examinations, four academics and a journalist share their views with China Daily's Wu Zheyu:

Reform can help build fair education system

Chen Zhiwen, editor-in-chief of China Education Online

Many of those who took the national college entrance exams, or gaokao, when it was resumed in 1977, have either retired or are preparing to do so.

The decision of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's reform and opening-up, to resume gaokao paved the way for cultivation of talents that propelled economic growth. Over the years, the pool of talents has grown in number and depth both, and higher education is no longer considered the preserve of the elite.

But gaokao has been criticized for its overemphasis on grades.

Reforms, however, have continued with Shanghai and Zhejiang province devising new pilot programs. In Shanghai, for example, besides Chinese, English and math, students can choose any three subjects from history, politics, geography, physics, chemistry and biology. And in Zhejiang, students can file as many as 80 applications for majors.

It's good to see the reforms being aimed at creating a scientific and fair gaokao system.

Education meets our diverse needs

Yu Xiulan, professor at the Institute of Education, Nanjing University

I was one of the beneficiaries of gaokao 40 years ago. I entered college in 1978. In those days, gaokao could change (and indeed changed) many students' lives, particularly those from rural areas. Admission to a college meant free tuition, "identity" change, urban hukou (household registration) and later a decent, preferably government, job.

Today a college degree is not enough to fetch a good or well-paying job. But youths need not to be daunted by the declining opportunities. Instead, they should embrace the uncertainties and work for a better future.

Gaokao must be treated for what it is - a means to a better future. And education is the road that leads to that means. But education also caters to people's diversified needs.

There is no conflict between learning professional skills to better serve society and trying to improve individual spirit, as both bode well for society.

Vocational education as crucial as college degree

Yan Yajun, associate professor at the College of Education, Zhejiang University

Admit it or not, the era of using gaokao to climb up the social ladder is over. College education is no longer a scarce resource; it can be accessed by many.

This is not to dissuade youths from taking gaokao. Higher education has lost none of its advantages. But today just a college degree does not necessarily guarantee you a good job.

Quite a few youths from rural areas have failed to get a job despite having college degrees; some families have even spent all their savings on their children's education only to see them face failure in the job market.

Perhaps kids should be taught from middle school how to tackle life's challenges and find the path that best suits their personalities so that they can avoid the heartbreak of not getting good jobs after graduation. For example, they should be taught to explore their real interests and strengths, which can be nurtured to develop talented individuals.

More important, vocational education must not be stigmatized, as a dexterous mechanic is worth much more than an incompetent college graduate for society.

Regional parity will improve system

Fang Changchun, associate professor at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Nanjing University

True, gaokao can change people's lives. But it has an inherent flaw, as it offers unequal higher education opportunities to youths, depending on their household registration (whether urban or rural), the region they belong to and their family backgrounds.

Three factors can be blamed for that - the divisive quality of basic education, the difference in the examination papers that the provinces prepare, and the enrollment quota system universities in different provinces follow.

That this year, 26 provinces will use the national test papers prepared by the Ministry of Education (despite not being the same, the papers will maintain a certain standard) bodes well for regional parity.

To promote fairness, universities that get most of their funds from the central government should use unified admission procedures. As for the provincial government administrated universities that rely more on local public funds, they should appropriately raise the quota for enrollment of local candidates.

Moreover, in the less-developed regions, universities should simply enroll more students. And central funds for universities in these regions should be raised to improve the higher education system.

Universities must focus on human values

Luo Yan, associate professor at the Institute of Education, Tsinghua University

Students who are under constant pressure to get good scores in exams throughout their school years enter universities only to find that most teachers are struggling to get higher academic tittles or conducting research in the hope of getting the papers published and raise their academic standing.

Evaluation has become an unending phenomenon in academics. But the focus of evaluation is wrongly on resources. It's time universities shifted their focus to human values, because they play a leading role in shaping social consciousness.

The first change should be to disconnect teachers' promotion and salary increment from academic publications and citations. Instead, they should be evaluated on the basis of their contribution to students' knowledge and the impact of their research works on the concerned fields.

A committee of academic ethics needs to be built to educate teachers, scholars and researchers about the consequences of data falsification and using deceitful means to add their names to research works. Building a database on the contributions of teachers and researchers can also be of help in this regard.

We should realize that advanced academic ecology is one that helps students to excel in their respective fields.

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