New rules spark debate on China's 'Gaokao'

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New rules for China's national college entrance exam, the "gaokao," pose a challenge to the test's reputation for fairness.

The rule, adopted by some 13 provincial regions in China ahead of this year's gaokao in early June, stipulates that gaokao applicants may receive extra points if they are "excellent in morality" or have a "good Samaritan" record.

In China, gaokao results are the major assessment standard for a student's application for college. The exam saw some 9 million test takers in 2013.

New rules stipulate that gaokao applicants may receive extra points if they are "excellent in morality". But vying be "a good Samaritan" might put themselves in danger. [file photo]

For years, China has had a policy to award extra gaokao points to students who are children of returned overseas Chinese, ethnic minorities and winners of major sports events and math or science competitions, among other groups. However, new rules emphasize awarding points for morality while minimizing excessive points in other categories.

The move has triggered strong debate among the public on fairness in the big exam. Many have pointed out that morality is hard to measure, and some worry that students or their parents may forge a record of good deeds to gain precious bonus points.

According to education authorities in Beijing and the provinces of Zhejiang and Sichuan, the new changes will allow local test takers to gain as many as 20 extra points for good morals.

The Beijing Municipal Education Commission explains the "excellent in morality" standard as "having done meritorious deeds" and "producing a comparatively great impact on society."

Xiong Bingqi, a Shanghai-based education expert, said jokingly that many "moral models" may emerge following the new policy. "Moral bonus points can easily become immoral if people fight for them by any means necessary," said Xiong.

The Ministry of Education has listed 14 items that qualify for gaokao bonus points, but according to an estimate by Yang Dongping, a Beijing Institute of Technology professor, the actual number of items for which points are awarded across various provinces, municipalities, and regions may exceed 190.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences, said these bonus points usually go to students from well-connected families, putting common people at a disadvantage.

Chu said many of the bonus point recipients are just taking advantage of loopholes to get ahead of others.

Since this year, the ministry has ordered local authorities to reduce excessive bonus point items that do not conform to the regulation in order to ensure fairness and keep corruption at bay.

With this change, almost all regions have decreased the number of people who can benefit from the bonus points policy, and the 13 that have adopted the new rule will emphasize points for morality.

Dai Mingqing, a political science professor from the Heilongjiang Institute of Technology, said he had mixed feelings on hearing the policy change. "Using exam results to guide students' actions can descend into utilitarianism, which can overshadow students' minds," said Dai.

Put students in danger?

Some netizens linked the "good Samaritan" standard to China's moral degeneration, as seen in incidents of people unwilling to help fallen elderly people and others in need.

The new rule could encourage young people to do good deeds in return for high marks, some netizens said on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

But others said that the extra points under the rule may become a dangerous temptation if students risk their lives to become good Samaritans.

People were reminded of Lai Ning, a 14-year-old middle school student who died when helping put out a forest fire. Though Lai was portrayed as a teen hero in China for decades, teenagers today are discouraged from copying him and are taught instead to keep themselves safe before lending a hand.

The provincial People's Congress in Liaoning even passed a bill in 2012 banning organizations or individuals from giving teens firefighting duties.

"Can we just not link up morality with marks? Isn't it enough to do something good for pure respect and compliments?" said microblogger "baishikele7758" on Sina Weibo.

The authorities should tread carefully when they decide to use moral incentives, because a policy can affect the molding of the character of people for generations, said the researcher Chu Zhaohui.

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