China's national col­lege ad­mis­sions ex­ams are a mas­sive headache

▶▶Ex­perts want to fix the gaokao, which ben­e­fits ur­ban youth more than rural stu­dents ▶▶“The cur­rent sys­tem it­self is un­fair. In­equal­ity is in­evitable”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - NEWS -

Hu Huifeng, an 18-year-old high school se­nior from China’s Jiangxi prov­ince, is on a strict reg­i­men. Seven days a week she rises by 6 a.m. for a day of classes in Chi­nese, English, math­e­mat­ics, chem­istry, physics, and bi­ol­ogy, with the last one fin­ish­ing at 9:50 p.m. “Once I get home, I study un­til mid­night,” she says.

Hu is among the 9 mil­lion stu­dents pre­par­ing for the big­gest test of their life: China’s an­nual col­lege en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion. Called the gaokao, or “high exam,” it will take place over nine hours on June 7-8 across China. It’s the cul­mi­na­tion of years of mem­o­riza­tion and test tak­ing, capped off by at least 12 months of gru­el­ing prepa­ra­tion. With its roots in the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions that started more than 2,000 years ago, the gaokao de­cides what school you go to and what ca­reer you might have, says Xiong Bingqi, vice pres­i­dent at the 21st Cen­tury Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search In­sti­tute in Shang­hai.

The gaokao is an es­pe­cially high hur­dle for China’s more than 100 mil­lion rural stu­dents, who al­ready re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion of far lower qual­ity than their ur­ban coun­ter­parts. A quota sys­tem for al­lo­cat­ing cov­eted col­lege slots by prov­ince, which greatly fa­vors lo­cal stu­dents, also works against rural youth who of­ten live far from the bet­ter uni­ver­si­ties and need higher test scores than lo­cal ap­pli­cants to gain ad­mis­sion. That means ur­ban youth are 7 times as likely to get into a col­lege as poor rural youth and 11 times as likely to get into an elite in­sti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to econ­o­mist Scott Rozelle, a Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion re­searcher at Stan­ford. “The cur­rent

Stu­dents in Heng­shui, He­bei prov­ince, ral­lied in late Fe­bru­ary to get ready for the gaokao

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