It’s like a matter of life and death

  • Colours of China
  • Monday, 13 May 2019

Hoping to score: Students standing on chairs at an oath-taking rally for the annual national entrance examination at a high school in Zhumadian, Henan province. — Reuters

IN less than a month, China will tune down into a “quiet mood” for a few days as over 10 million high school students sit for the annual national college entrance examination.

The exam, known as gaokao in Chinese, is deemed a matter of life and death because it is the only way to secure places in universities.

According to the Education Ministry’s website, there are 2,914 higher education institutions throughout China.

The average admission rate is about 70%.

So, a normal university degree is no longer a golden ticket to a glittering career when the market is flooded with graduates.

A graduate in chemical science handled my check-in process at Shenzhen International Airport in the wee hours after I missed the transit flight and another made my bubble tea at a mall.

They are among graduates I met doing jobs that do not require high academic qualifications.

Gaokao exam candidates are not just aiming for a place at any university but fighting to get into the top 100 first-tier institutions, at least.

One question I was asked frequently in China is “which university did you graduate from?” – a rather uncommon topic in Malaysia unless you are a rookie in the work field.

When I told my Chinese friends, they said it is an ice-breaking line and this reflected on how important they viewed university qualifications.

Certain quarters judged someone based on the university the person graduated from to see “how good you are” or simply find an opening line to show off their academic background.

They have a reason to be proud of it, of course, given the fierce competition and difficulty level of gaokao, which is said to be one of the world’s toughest exams.

China is a country that weighs paper qualifications heavily.

A Malaysian friend of mine had her work permit application rejected by the Chinese government recently and the only reason given was that she doesn’t have a degree.

The 30-ish lass, who has over 10 years of experience in the media industry, was upset because she was head-hunted personally by an American senior management executive of a company despite knowing her “low qualification”.

“Even if you have worked at the same company for more than 10 years and excelled in your job, you still need a degree in order to be promoted to managerial positions,” a Chinese journalist told me.

This requirement in the work field has led many people to do anything to gain entry into top universities.

“Migrating” to provinces with low admission score lines is one option.

Last week, a group of migrant students from the northern Hebei province was found to have moved some 2,000km to the southern Guangdong province to sit for gaokao conducted at an average-performance private school in Shenzhen.

This was exposed by parents who were shocked to see Shenzhen Fuyuan School achieved very good results in a trial exam last month.

Six students from the school were among those in the list of the city’s top 10 highest scorers.

“Only the potential Peking and Tsinghua students were offered the opportunity.

“We stand a higher chance here because of the lower score lines,” said a migrant student, adding that the school, in return, needed them to raise its overall performance and eventually boost its popularity.

Last year, nine students from Fuyuan were admitted into Peking University and Tsinghua University, ranked 31st and 22nd, respectively, in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Local parents were furious simply because their children were deprived of the chance to enter prestigious universities.

The college admission score lines varied across China.

For Peking University, for example, a Hebei student needs 707 points to enter its science school last year while one from Guangdong could secure a place with just 679 points and 686 for a Beijinger.

The score lines will only be announced after the exam, taking into considerations the number of candidates, economic performance and education standard of each province, municipality and autonomous region.

Guangdong Education Department director Jing Lihu has ordered all “migrant students” to return to their respective hometowns.

Failing which, he added, the scores of these students would be cancelled.

Gaokao will take place from June 7 to 9.

During this period, all efforts will be taken to ensure the exam is carried out smoothly and the students are given the best environment to do their revisions.

In many places, no music is allowed for square dancing sessions, green lanes are set for candidates at subway stations and on the roads, construction works and factories operation near the examination halls stopped, traffic are diverted and vehicles banned from honking.

The exam is deemed so important that the Chinese government amended the Criminal Law to include gaokao cheating as an offence to ensure fairness.

Since 2016, those convicted will face up to seven years in prison and banned from taking any other national examinations for three years.

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