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Gaokao reform sparks fairness discussion

2014-12-19 09:11 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

A reform package aimed at changing China's exam-centered education sparked discussion over how to ensure fairness in the National College Entrance Exam, or the Gaokao.

Currently, China's university admission is solely based on whether the applicants can reach the minimum Gaokao scores required by each university.

The Gaokao arrangement has long been scolded for suffocating creativity as the major purpose of China's secondary education has been eschewed to making sure high school students can obtain high scores in the Gaokao.

Although Chinese education authorities have long been advocating schools to stop the exam-centered mindset, education professionals and students argue that no true change will be made until the college admissions adopt a different approach.

However, every proposal to overhaul the Gaokao has spawned public backlash as the Gaokao is regarded by many as the most fair way for their children to climb up social ladder.

But this week, Chinese Education Ministry determined it would make a move. It announced Gaokao reform measures on Tuesday and Wednesday, asking universities not to base their judgement of applicants solely on Gaokao scores.

Except for the scores, students will be evaluated on their morality standards, physical health, art cultivation and social practices, according to the reform plan.

In addition, students will be allowed to submit reports of three electives from a pool of six -- biology, chemistry, geography, history, physics and politics, together with their mandatory Chinese, math and English scores. The electives will not be scored in marks but graded in levels.

Yu Shijie, director of admission at Tsinghua University, said the reform could objectively and comprehensively reflect students' improvement in the middle school.

"The biggest public concern is the abuse of power. People are worried that the admission will have no clear standard if the significance of scores is reduced," said Chu Chaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences.

Currently, the grading of extracurricular performance is within the discretion of teachers and some teachers just randomly give students scores before their graduation. Falsification of social engagement records is not an uncommon practice. Some parents worry they may have to trade bribes for better grades.

"We need more professional and persuasive replacements to convince the public that the change will not damage fairness but evaluates applicants more comprehensively," Chu said.

"Gaokao is the most fair channel of social mobility. If anything goes wrong in the extracurriculum evaluation, it's more fair for us to just stick to the current system, otherwise many disadvantaged people will have little chance," said Cao Jianmin, a resident in the city of Xi'an.

Wang Dianjun, headmaster of the High School attached to Tsinghua University, however, believes the proposed changes will promote social integrity as long as future admission can employ a strict process of evaluation and supervision.

The inclusion of factors other than Gaokao scores concerned social integrity, Wang said. "It will take some time to build a system that upholds social integrity."

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