Gaokao too harsh? School too competitive? Cry me a river

By Yang Lan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-10 19:18:02

It's that time of year again for the world to gloat over the 9 million Chinese high school students sitting the nine-hour gaokao, China's national college entrance examinations.

This past week, thousands of news outlets across the globe have written every imaginable clickbait cliché about this exam: "high-stakes" "life-determining" "score-obsessed" "test factory…"

And yet, not a single one of these journalists have ever actually taken the gaokao. They base their hackneyed articles on some photos of uniformed students sitting in an assembly line of school desks, then write about how hard life is for Chinese students, how the gaokao must be reformed, and waaah waaah waaah. Cry me a river.

The hypocrisy of Westerner's condemning the gaokao when it is the West whom have turned standardized testing into an acronymed art form with all their SATs and GREs and LSATs and MCATs.

The earliest known standardized test in history was China's keju, imperial examination, which can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). Every standardized intelligence and aptitude test to appear thereafter in the modern world - from the French IQ to the American ACT to the Indian IIT-JEE - are basically white-washed incarnations of the keju. Talk about copycats!

In fact, the current form of the gaokao, implemented in 1977 by China's Ministry of Education, is localized by province and constantly being revised, making it one of the most modernized, most dynamic and least-uniformed standardized tests in the world.

Do you know why China is the oldest and most resilient civilization? Because for three years of their life in high school we don't allow our children to sleep or play. But do not tell me that the gaokao is too harsh on students. American students have only a few months to prepare for their SAT, yet Chinese students are allowed three whole years to study for the gaokao; every single day in a Chinese high school is like a practice test.

Moreover, the SAT gives its students a mere four stressful hours, while the gaokao is spread out over two days; Chinese students have the luxury to go back to their feng-shui'd hotel room and receive an IV drip and oxygen while reviewing their notes. And unlike Western tests that require critical and creative thinking, the gaokao can be passed by simply memorizing a list of facts, formulas and figures. How hard is that?

There is a theory that one needs about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any field. Which means that after spending three years preparing for the gaokao, Chinese students invariably become experts in not just one but multiple fields by the time they turn 18.

So why do Chinese college students become so lazy and dumb? Because they are crushed under the gravitational force of their own liberation and leisure. University is obsolete because students have already learned everything. College courses are just a formality.

Peek into any university dormitory and the only thing you won't see is someone studying. For every year a student spent preparing for the gaokao they will spend in college playing computer games, sleeping, dating and sleeping.

Westerners decry Chinese education as "hyper-competitive," but the gaokao is probably the fairest and most transparent thing we Chinese will encounter in life. Indeed, no rich kid can buy his scores and no pretty girl can wink her way into a university.

The tragic irony of all this, however, is that gaokao scores and university diplomas are just about the most useless thing in Chinese society. Think I'm being too cynical? A national survey conducted by that kept track of 500 top gaokao scorers over a period of two decades revealed that not a single one of them have gone on to successful careers.

Unfortunately for them, the most important lesson any Chinese student will ever receive is the one that wasn't on the gaokao: only good looks, wealthy families and guanxi (connections) will get you ahead in today's China.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

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