Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Reform prescribes sound dose for gaokao disorder

By Bai Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2013-11-23 07:37

Is your child attending a local high school? Do you want it to be a nerdy science student, or a graduate well versed in humanities but with an undisciplined mind?

Both bad choices. But such a possibility is so real that even top Chinese leaders have started calling for an end to the decades-long practice that makes students choose between physics, chemistry and biology, and history, politics and geography, as the main subjects during much of their three-year high school education to prepare for the national college entrance examination or gaokao.

 Reform prescribes sound dose for gaokao disorder

Sean McNally from Britain teaches Chinese children how to learn English through paintings. Many students in China have trouble learning English and using it in their daily lives. Meng Zhongde / for China Daily 

The terse directive, buried in a myriad of decisions and instructions, which appeared in a document released by the just-concluded Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, has created a nationwide stir because tens of millions of high-school students cram for the all-important exam under either the humanities or science stream every year. Although humanities students are officially still required to study science subjects for the first two years, they do not have to take them seriously because they are not required by gaokao so far. Similarly, science students find ways to skip the humanities courses so they can focus on more relevant subjects to surge forward in gaokao.

Educators realized a long time ago that such a learning approach would hurt students' future development. At a deeper level, they believe the fundamental flaws of the gaokao system - such as the emphasis on rote memory, holding the same test for different universities to select students from diverse backgrounds and abilities, and admissions based mainly on a single exam - have prompted students to do whatever it takes, including foregoing the opportunity to have a broader and more balanced knowledge, to outperform others in gaokao.

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