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Q&A: How and why is China carrying out reform of the gaokao?

China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-06 14:16

Editor's note: During the annual sessions, China Daily has collected questions foreign netizens care most about and solicited answers from experts, CPPCC National Committee members and NPC deputies.

How and why is China carrying out reform of the gaokao, the National College Entrance Exam?

Q&A: How and why is China carrying out reform of the gaokao?

Zhong Binglin, CPPCC National Committee member and president of the Chinese Society of Education [Photo/China Daily]

I have participated in the whole reform process for the gaokao, which is taken by more people than any other examination in the world. Every year, more than 9 million candidates sit the test, and it enjoys a high degree of credibility.

The reform is based on two priorities: giving students more choices, and giving universities more power to select prospective students that meet their requirements.

It has three goals: improving fairness in education and creating equal opportunities to enter prestigious universities; allowing different universities to select the "right" students; and guiding reform in basic education that will foster the rounded development of students.

The reason that the reform is being carried out is that the current exam does not reflect the changing reality. The gaokao used to select a small number of elites to enter the higher education system. In 1977, the first year it resumed after being suspended during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), less than 5 percent of the 5.7 million candidates were accepted by colleges. By 2020, the gross enrollment rate for universities will hit 50 percent, according to the government's plan. Since it is easier to enter a university now, universities of different levels and types should target students with different talents. It is neither fair nor scientific to select different students using the same test.

Furthermore, great progress has been made in China's system of basic education, meaning the current gaokao cannot make a comprehensive evaluation of students' performance.

The other reason to carry out the reform is because the test's credibility has come under attack due to some people misusing its preferential policies. For instance, in the past, students who excelled in arts or sports but had lower test scores were allowed to enter university, as it increased diversity on campus. However, in some cases, this policy was manipulated to allow students who had no such talent to enter university despite having poor scores.

It takes time to evaluate any reform and the Ministry of Education is paying great attention to this. It will eventually be evaluated by a variety of different stakeholders. If universities, high schools, middle schools, parents and students are all satisfied, then it should be a success.

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