China’s toughest test just got harder


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Last Tuesday was the most anticipated opening day of a new term for Yin Shirui, a high school student in Ganzhou, in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi.
It came about two months later than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic.
For final-year high school students in nine Chinese provinces, last week marked their return to campus after an extended winter holiday and weeks of online learning at home.
“I don’t like learning on the internet at all. I stayed at home alone for most of the day, from morning until late in the afternoon,” Yin, 17, said.
“I am not interested in what is taught in online class because the teachers there do not target me, or my class. They target the whole grade of my school.”
Yin said she was also anxious because her score ranking in her grade dropped considerably compared to two months ago. Prior to the school closures, she was a top 20 student among her 1,200 peers. Over the past few months, she dropped into the top 100.
“I was looking forward to the opening of the semester so that I could get more specific instructions from my teachers to improve my scores,” she said.
Yin said when she and her classmates met in their classroom on Tuesday, they were so excited that they chatted non-stop during the class break.
“It’s good that we can go back to school to study now. But the bad thing is that we have to wear masks all the time,” she said.
Like Yin, final-year students in high schools are feeling immense pressure to prepare for the grueling National Higher Education Entrance Examination, known as gaokao in China.
The test is regarded as the most important examination in the country.
This year, the pandemic forced the authorities to delay it by one month. It will take place on July 7 and 8. It is the first time the test has been delayed since the Cultural Revolution.
Authorities estimate more than 10.7 million students will take this year’s gaokao, which can make or break a student’s future.
Being forced to study online has increased the difficulty of studying for this test, with many students saying online learning has made their life more difficult.
Yin said that, in the past month, she has had several tests online.
For objective questions, students make choices on the computer. For subjective questions, they write down answers on paper, take photos of the paper and upload it online.
But for Xie Yiwei, a final-year student from an elite high school in Shanghai, there were no tests at all, which made her concerned because it was difficult to assess her progress in class.
Students in Shanghai must wait another two weeks until April 27 to go back to school.
Xie had hoped to return to school sooner as she wanted to have more interaction with her teacher and her classmates.
“It’s so boring to study all day and all night. I did not leave my home for a whole week,” she said.
On a normal school day, Xie spends half an hour walking from home to school and takes physical exercise classes twice a week. She would often play badminton with her peers. But, over the past two months, she has barely had any physical exercise.
Another student, who only gives his surname as Jin, from Sichuan province in the country’s southwest, said the epidemic did not affect his study much. He said he adjusted his study plan a little and then implemented the plan strictly.
“Actually, I like learning online at home. I have a sense of achievement thanks to my self-discipline,” he said. “The only problem for self-learning is that I tend to spend more time on studying subjects I am interested in but skip the subjects I have less interest in and am not good at.”
Fan Xianzuo, an education professor from Central China Normal University in Wuhan, in Hubei province, where the coronavirus first emerged, said online learning was the only option for final-year high school students.
They had no choice because their foremost test, gaokao, was just a few months away, Fan said.
“The disadvantages of it include that they cannot receive timely and tailor-made mentoring from their teachers.”
Many of these students “are still kids and cannot control themselves to concentrate on studying like they do at school,” Fan said.
Luo Xiaofei, a resident in Hezhou in the Guangxi autonomous region in the south, said his son, a final-year student, told him he could not learn anything at home.
Luo said his son usually achieved only a score of 420 out of a possible 750 marks in simulation tests.
“His score is hardly enough for the enrolment benchmark at universities. I am really worried about him,” he said.
“He locked himself in his room and seldom talked to us. I hope he can return to school as soon as possible.”
This story originally appeared on Inkstone, a daily multimedia digest of China-focused news and features.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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