Gaokao Reform: Better Channel for Social Mobility?

March 9, 2015
Editor: Eileen Cheng

Gaokao, or the National College Entrance Exam of China, is one of the most controversial topics in the country. []

Gaokao, or the National College Entrance Exam of China, is one of the most controversial topics in the country. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that the government will deepen the reforms on education and the enrollment system so that each person would have the opportunity to change their own destiny through education. He said this in the government work report he delivered during the opening session of this year's NPC, China's top legislature National People's Congress, on March 5 in Beijing.

What's included in the reforms? And will the reform make Gaokao a better channel for social mobility?

Just one day before the government report was delivered, on March 4, the Education Ministry of China announced that it will reform the Gaokao system and education enrollment, in order to further the educational fairness on its official site.

The reforms include changes in scoring of Gaokao, which will come in a new 3 plus 3 format. Vice principal of the High School Affiliated to Beijing Normal University, Liang Yuancao, explains.

"The three major subjects of math, Chinese and English are still kept in the unified exam of national or provincial level. In addition, students have to choose 3 scores out of the elective subjects to be included in their overall scores. The elective subjects should be chosen according to both their own interests or superiority, and the requirements of the university they want to enroll."

Zhou Xingguo, principal of AnShan No.1 Middle School in northeast China's Liaoning province says that universities will not base their judgment of applicants solely just on scores in the future.

"We also take in consideration of comprehensive assessments on elective classes as well as evaluations on morality standards, physical health, art cultivation and social practices. It is a multivariate enrollment system."

Professor Pang Weiguo from East China Normal University in Shanghai expresses positive attitude toward the reform:

"Students will be evaluated by their overall performances in their high school or even longer periods. So the comprehensive assessment is a more reasonable evaluation method."

Professor Li Ruifeng, deputy to the NPC from Taiyuan University of Technology in the province of Shanxi, says the reform is a necessity and also an improvement to the current system.

"First of all, it changes the system of determining your future with a set of tests during a few days. Especially the English exam. After the reform, students can take the test twice in one year, and pick the better result to add to their total score, which will ease the pressure from both the students and their families."

Li says, the elective-class teaching method breaks the traditional fixed class arrangement in Chinese high schools, and encourages students to plan for their academic future when they are in secondary schools.

Principle Zhou Xingguo also confirms high schools in Liaoning province will change their curriculum to align with the Gaokao reform.

Professor Pang Weiguo believes under the new enrollment scheme, colleges may favor a student by taking into consideration the score of one of the student's three elective classes. This is a glad tiding for those who are particularly good at one certain subject.

Pang also says the reformed Gaokao becomes similar to the American Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT.

David Moser, Academic Director at CET Chinese Studies of Capital Normal University in Beijing who comes from the United States:

"As some people may know that the SAT test for college entrance is only one of several criteria that colleges use to evaluate students in the United States. Some feels that it is a better system because it is a more comprehensive evaluation that looks at students from other angles, besides just the performance on the test."

The reforms have also sparked discussion over how to ensure fairness of the Gaokao.

There are public concerns about the abuse of power. People are worried that the admission will have no clear standard if the significance of scores is reduced.

Some parents worry they may have to trade bribes for better grades.

Liang Yuancao admits:

"The problems of unfairness or even corruption might exist in a short term. But they are avoidable. Schools do have their ways to confirm the certifications and evaluate the qualities. Even if there are false elements, it will never affect the results."

What Liang worries more is the fairness of evaluation within the schools. Zhou Xingguo gives out a solution:

"We will design a quantitative system for the comprehensive evaluation. It will be a transparent course that leaves no room for black box operation."

According to NPC Deputy Li Ruifeng, schools need more professional and persuasive replacements to convince the public that the change will not damage fairness but evaluates applicants more comprehensively.

"One of the most important functions for NPC deputies is supervising and advising. What we care about most is the education in China, which will play a decisive role in China's development. A good system is needed to help cultivate the talents of our people. "


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