Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Travails of Chinese Students

     Last week about 9.4 million Chinese high school graduate students sat for entrance exams, known locally as gaokao, in a fierce competition for a place in Chinese universities for higher education. As in India so in China, this was a moment of great stress and anxiety not only for the students, but also for their anxious parents. For at stake were their future careers and prospects for jobs in an increasingly difficult environment, considering that China is at present going through an economic downward slide where lucrative jobs are becoming increasingly harder to find.
*In the Chinese system there is one national exam [gaokao] for the whole country, where the position gained by a student determines which university he/she would be admitted. The higher the position obtained in the exam, the more renowned the university available.
*Of the 100 top universities in the world, 4 Chinese universities figure; namely Tsinghua, Peking U, Fudan and Shanghai Jiao Tong U. It is the ambition of most Chinese students and their parents for them to obtain admission in the above top four universities. Once a student gains admission in the top four, he/she is assured of an "iron rice bowl" [colloquial Chinese for assured employment]. On the other hand, there is no Indian university that figures in the world's top 100!
*In 1949 when the People's Republic was founded there were only 117,000 students in the whole of China. By 2015, the figure had increased to 37 million making it the largest student population in the world. This massive increase is one of the reasons for China's rapid economic growth.
*As the exams are tough and very competitive there is considerable family pressure on the students to do well and this in turn has led to allegations of cheating. The most common practice is to use wireless sets and substitute exam sitters.
* Taking cognizance of this practice the Chinese authorities have recently introduced draconian laws. Cheaters caught and convicted will now be given 7 year jail terms under amended laws and disbarred from other national exams for a period of 3 years. The severity of the sentences would indicate the scale of the problem of cheating that exists.
*On the other hand, there has been an uproar and even some angry demonstrations,particularly by parents, over the authorities decision to allocate extra seats to students from the poorer western provinces of China.
*Although there is no formal "reservation" system in China, minority communities have benefited from affirmative action. For example, this year 3,800 Tibetan students will get "extra" points for the gaokao exam. In Xinjiang in 2015, minority students were given 50 "extra points" if either parent belonged to one of the 11 ethnic groups identified by the authorities. Interestingly, this concession is limited to only if the student came from one of the four prefectures identified; namely Hotan, Kashgar, Aksu and Kizilsu Kirgiz.
 * According to the China Youth Daily in 2014, more than 64% of the 46,659 respondents polled believed that "extra points" harmed the interests of the majority Han community [emphasis added].
* Although never officially admitted it is believed that suicides amongst failed students is fairly common, but nevertheless China continues to produce some outstanding students.
* It would thus seem that this is one area where problems faced are common for both China and India!


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