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National college entrance exams: Three decades on
Latest Updated by 2007-06-11 09:21:21
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On May 24, 1977, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping delivered a speech titled "Respect Knowledge: Respect Talents," indicating the possible re-introduction of the national college entrance exams that had been stopped a decade ago.

That winter, when more than 5 million candidates aged between 15 and 36 took the exams, spring had come at last.

The "gaokao," or national college entrance exams, of 1977 not only restored an examination system, but also social equality and justice.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, over the last three decades, around 36 million students have been admitted into universities, colleges, and vocational and technical schools across China. Enrolment rates have risen from 4.7 percent in 1977 to 56.85 percent in 2006. School campuses become places of mass education for all.

Selecting talented students through exams is an age-old tradition in China, dating back to the Sui Dynasty (581-618). As the system has evolved, equality is still the main issue. However, many people wonder if the system is really all that fair.

"No," says Chu Zhaohui, an education expert. "But we have not found a better alternative. 'Gaokao' is the least bad method we have to date."

"Regional discrimination" has drawn wide criticism. Universities usually set a fixed admission quota for each province, with the number and quality of the colleges available varying greatly across China. For example, compared to Beijing, Hunan Province has fewer colleges per capita. Therefore an applicant from Hunan needs a higher score than his Beijing counterpart to get into the same college.

In recent years, this has led to many families relocating for the sole purpose of gaining an advantage in their child's college application process.

In the last three decades, China's universities have never stopped their reforms, such as enrolment expansion, college mergers and changes to exam papers. However, educators say these efforts are not enough, as the reforms hardly touch on the fundamental problem - the loss of university spirit.

Commonly held views on contemporary university spirit include four principles: a free and independent spirit, human spirit, scientific spirit and critical spirit.

As competition in every aspect of school life is becoming fierce, utilitarianism is flooding campuses. Scandals such as plagiarism are increasing among professors, and post-graduate education has become a stepping-stone for job-hunting students.

To reshape their image, Chinese universities should establish their position under the banner of "university spirit," experts say.

Editor: Wing

By: Source: Szdaily web edition
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