China Focus: Mixed feelings as Gaokao reform eliminates extra points

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Chen Lin, a young violin player, has packed away all her competition trophies, symbolizing a farewell to the 10-year toil her parents believed would secure her a spot in a top university.

With big changes afoot for the country's all-important national college entrance exam, also known as gaokao, students are no longer rewarded "extra points" for sports or artistic pursuits beginning in 2015.

It's a change eagerly embraced by the young violinist, who's entering her first year of high school.

"I'll continue with the violin, but not for the gaokao. Now I have time to read a book, see a movie and hang out with friends," she said.

Chen, a pseudonym given at her request, has played violin since kindergarten. She says most of her spare time during childhood was spent practicing the violin with the intense pressure from parents and teachers killing her interest in the instrument.

"Actually, I hated it sometimes," she said.

While Chen embraces the change, her parents are left feeling dispirited. They had high hopes the awards their daughter won would secure her bonus points for the gaokao and by extension a better chance at entering one of the country's top two universities -- Peking or Tsinghua, her father said.

The couple have forked out more than 800,000 yuan (about 130,000 U.S. dollars) on her violin lessons. "Her violin alone cost 30,000 yuan," he said.

Thousands of families in Beijing were caught unprepared by the policy change, since annually over 3,000 gaokao participants in the capital city enjoyed bonus points for sporting or musical achievements, according to a Tuesday report by the Beijing Evening News.

The parents' anxiety was shared by Cheng Shu, who has pushed her daughter, the same age as Chen, to practice cello for four years. The Shanghai mother admitted that discarding the "extra points" system would make the gaokao more fair, but said "it's a crying shame my daughter's efforts have been in vain."

The "extra points policy was designed to make up for the weakness of the traditional gaokao, which solely focused on students academic performance while ignoring non-academic skills. It was designed to encourage rounded development of students.

However, it has spawned an underground business, says Wu Zunmin, professor with the China Institute of Education Policy. "Some students, parents, schools and local education authorities have worked together to take advantage of the policy."

He believes terminating the policy will clean admission procedures.

A student recruitment official with Shanghai's prestigious Tongji University, who declined to be named, said some local authorities have a say in who qualify for the points.

"Under the 'extra points' policy, it's not uncommon to find a student with 'musical talent' doesn't understand the musical staff or another with the "painting gift" can't do a simple sketch," said a sociologist in Shanghai who only gave his surname as Zhu.

In a high-profile college admission scandal this summer, 87 out of about 1,000 gaokao participants of a high school in Benxi City, northeast China's Liaoning Province, were initially awarded extra points since they possessed athlete certificates.

The figure of 87, only two less than the total number of students with extra points for sporting talent in the combined school for five other cities in Liaoning, drew widespread doubts.

Later the provincial education authorities ordered reexaminations. They found 66 of the school's 87 students voluntarily gave up the test and their privileges were canceled.

Concerns have emerged that students and parents may lose passion on developing non-academic skills due to the policy change. But Ye Zhiming, vice president of Shanghai University, believed one of the new measures has pointed to a solution.

The measure said schools should build profiles for students, which include not only their academic scores, but also evaluation on their special talent, moral condition as well as physical and mental health.

"Hopefully, the profiles recording students' overall quality can replace the 'extra points' system," Ye said. Endi

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