Today is the biggest day in the lives of many Chinese students: the beginning of the Gaokao - the College Entrance Exam. Or, as Xinhua called it a three-day "battle to determine their fate."
As we went to lunch today, parents were lined up outside of the area's high schools, praying, nervously pacing, waiting for their future meal-ticket, er, child to emerge victoriously.
Many will emerge disappointed, since the admission rate is around 62 percent (according to Xinhua).
Generally, this is the ONLY criteria colleges in China use for admissions. Nobody looks at high school grades or extracurricular activities. After all, most high school students in China have no time for extracurricular activities because they spend every spare moment trying to prepare for this exam. Even if the high school had service clubs, basketball or ping-pong teams, students probably wouldn't have time for them.
We've heard stories about students who get up every morning at 5 a.m. to begin studying before school, go to class from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., then continue studying until 11:30 p.m., with only a half-hour nap in the middle. No wonder their social skills resemble that of junior high schoolers by the time they get to college.
Students here have told of the elaborate, high-tech, ways that students cheat on the high-stakes exam. One said that she has friends who placed a tiny radio devise in her ear. Then when the exam began, a distant voice relayed the correct answers for many questions. Others said that they've heard stories about teachers allowed their students to cheat (the pressure is also extremely high on the teachers to show that they can prepare their students well).
Just last week, in the office, my student Jane was telling me about the Sichuan earthquake last year. She said that she and her classmates were studying for the college entrance exam when it hit -- just a month before their big day. Nobody was hurt, except for a boy who jumped from the third floor and broke his legs. They all slept under the stars at school because they weren't allowed to go home afterwards. Then, finally, she said the school told them to go home and prepare on their own for the exam.
They spent a month on their own cramming. Then, they showed up on the days of the exam. "I haven't seen most of my classmates since then. We didn't even get to take photos together."
No photos. No graduation. No ritual. No rite-of-passage. It was just over.
This is how she wound up at this college. It's generally a disappointing prospect for students to be here at a not-so-prestigious teacher's college, even more so to be part of the "three-year" program, which earns a certificate a little lower than a bachelor's degree. Jane is a three-year student. Jane didn't mention this, but three-year students didn't do well enough on the gaokao to gain full-fledged status in college. If you need 60% to get in, maybe they got 50%.
Unfortunately, since bloggger is blocked here, I can't add these links to the body of the text, so I'll add them here: