Thousands go to great lengths for exam
During the first weekend of this month in Shanghai, about 51,000 students took part in or national college entrance exam, considered “the most important exam” of their lives.
During the exam period, the municipal government coordinated education, transportation, meteorological and community needs of the
takers. Construction projects were suspended; the weather forecasts were detailed on an hourly basis; traffic was controlled on some roads to ensure the exam takers not get stuck in congestion; the exam takers were allowed to take subway and buses for free, and police cars if they were late. Public hospitals organized special task forces to treat exam takers in case of emergency; and armed police were assigned to provide security at exam locations.
Nationwide, 9.42 million students took the exam. In some places, the students and their families prayed to various gods, from an ancient village tree to a Taoist scholar statue, for good luck in the exam. Some students’ parents even blocked some roads near the exam spots to minimize external influence on the students.
These exorbitant measures are normal and considered acceptable during because people still believe that is of great importance to the people wanting to change their fate through education, and the students’ performance in the exam does make a big difference in results of the highly competitive selection exams.
College education has already become education for the masses instead of elite since the government expanded the university enrollment scale in 1990s. In 1980s, when China resumed after the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-76), the enrollment ratio was below 20 percent. This year, the ratio is expected to hit nearly 80 percent.
Today, the competition is no longer for a seat in college, but the top 100 key universities, which accounts for only about 15 percent of the overall college enrollment, and the diploma of which means better jobs, higher income and social status.
On the other hand, the Chinese government is calling for college students to start their own businesses, and the education authority is allowing students to suspend their education to become selfemployed, in a bid to respond to the economic slowdown’s negative influence on the employment market.
And the transformation of China’s industrial structure requires more skilled workers and technicians graduating from senior vocational schools and polytechnic colleges, which in many Chinese minds are inferior to university graduates. The unemployment ratio of the graduates from the average universities is markedly higher than that of the vocational schools.
The mismatch between the university education and the employment market’s needs have existed for a long time. Although the education authority has increased its support for vocational education, the people still scramble for college education.
Previously, many rural students compared to a single-plank bridge to enter the city. Now the people see it as a springboard to enter the key university and good jobs. The former indicated the rigidity of the social mobility system, which has been reformed via fast economic growth. In the past 30 years, China’s urbanization ratio doubled from about 20 percent to more than 50 percent.
The new mindset shows the limited access to professional success and the narrow definition of success in current society, under the influence of a lasting social prejudice against manual laborers.
The government should reform its higher education and vocational education systems to better fit the needs of economic restructuring, and increase the payment for manual labor workers and strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights. The three measures are necessary to promote restructuring, boost consumption and build an innovative nation.
The education authority should figure out new mechanisms to be more efficient, objective and fair than to relieve the public’s anxiety over the “fatal” exam.
The students’ daily performance and their abilities displayed at school, society and students’ organizations should also be considered by the universities. Then, the young people will have more time to develop their academic interest, and take part in sports activities and social works.