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Story behind 840, 000 candidates' choice
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By Ma Yujia

China's two-day national college entrance exam, known as Gaokao in Chinese, will begin on June 7. The Ministry of Education said on Tuesday that about 10.2 million people have registered to attend the exam – a decrease in candidates for the first time in the past seven years. Among the candidates are 7.5 million senior high school graduates.

But according to Jiang Gang, deputy director of the Education Ministry's college students office, the number of senior high school graduates this year was 8.34 million, indicating that about 840,000 high school graduates have not registered for the exam, considered by most Chinese as the best route to a life-changing opportunity.

Since the official resumption of the national college-entrance exam in 1977, millions of people from succeeding generations have qualified through this test for colleges or universities, thereby changing their lives for the better in a fiercely competitive society. In recent years, this exam has always been considered by most Chinese as the best chance to transform their lives. So why this year have about 840,000 candidates passed up on the opportunity?

Heavy employment pressure

Jiang does not agree with the view of some media reports that pressure on the employment market caused by the international economic downturn has led to the drop. But according to a survey by China Youth Daily, more and more Chinese parents and their children are of the opinion that it is becoming increasingly difficult for college graduates to find jobs in a fiercely competitive society, and it is time to have a rethink and make a wise career decision.

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The idea that "to be selected by a university through Gaokao means getting a good job in advance" has always been in the forefront of Chinese people's minds. Interviewed by China Youth Daily, Li Dajun, a retired worker from a state-owned enterprise, said, "Once I graduated from college, I went straight into a job in my company. At that time, I didn't even have to do any job-seeking on my own behalf. But this year when my son graduated from Beijing Geely University, it was very difficult for him to find a job at all, never mind a good job."

The fact that you won't necessarily find a job even if you are selected by universities is causing Chinese parents and students to start to question China's national education system. Additionally, the international financial crisis is resulting in grim employment prospects among college graduates.

Poor economic condition

China has carried out higher education reforms since the 1990s. In tandem with the natural growth of China's economy, tuition fees in universities have grown from a few hundred yuan in 1989 to the current average of 6,000 yuan. However, Chinese incomes have not grown in line with the increase in tuition fees. Although the government and relevant ministries have adopted a range of measures to relieve economy hardship, such as additional investment in education and establishing state-level scholarships, to most families tuition fees are still higher than what they can afford. The comparatively poor economic situation has become an important factor in these candidates' choice.

Yu Haiqiong, a senior high school student in Chongqing, left school this year and went to coastal province of Zhejiang to earn money. She sighed, "I really want to continue my education, but I don't have that choice because my family can't afford my further education costs. I must earn money as soon as possible." Her teacher Peng Shizhong said that Yu's case left him feeling very sad and helpless.

Studying abroad

Recently, a journalist from China Youth Daily visited Beijing New Fairway School, an English training institution, and found that over 30 students in its SAT training class are senior high school graduates from standard schools in Beijing. These students said that they had abandoned the national college entrance exam and were preparing to sit the SAT instead, thereby qualifying for college admission in the US.

A teacher from Beijing New Fairway School said, "In recent years we've seen an increasing number of students who have preferred to attend courses in our institution in order to study abroad."

More and more parents also concerns about the lower ranking of top domestic colleges and universities internationally. Moreover, it is comparatively easier for students to pass entrance exams for foreign universities, such as SAT, thereby gaining eligibility to higher-ranking international institutions.

Educational gap between urban and rural areas

Registration statistics indicate that most senior high school graduates who have forfeited the opportunity to take part in the exam are from rural areas.

Talking about her decision not to participate, Luo Yan, a student from a rural area in Chongqing, could not refrain from crying. "I don't know. I couldn't sit the exam because compared with students from urban areas, my performance in every subject was much poorer," she said.

But according to an experienced teacher who has focused on rural education for more than ten years, the poor performance of students from rural areas is not because they don't study hard. Restricted by location and poor resources, not only can students not establish a solid foundation for their further education during their early studies, but they are also deprived of opportunities to build extra-curricular knowledge. Faced with the same examination, they consequently are not getting an equal start with students from urban areas. In other words, from the beginning, they are already condemned to be losers.

According to CRI.com, an official from Ministry of Education recently said that future college entrance examinations would include both academic performance testing and a comprehensive evaluation. This reform aims to change the situation in which one's access to a college education is decided solely by an academic test. Obviously, from the current situation, China has a long way to go in the process of higher education reform.

(China.org.cn June 5, 2009)

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