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Brain drain, social gap put China's top academic test at stake
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Sporting a stylish dress and with her hair permed straight, Luo Yan is dressed up in order to appear sophisticated enough for a job, most likely a hotel hostess or shop assistant in Chongqing's city proper.

The girl's soft voice trails off to a whisper and her eyes become misty at the mention of the national college admission test that will start on Sunday.

"I'm not dumb. I never flunked any test before."

Her confidence was shattered two months ago by an admission test at a local vocational school.

The test was full of "bizarre" questions, including how to tell two people's relations by looking at how close they stand to each other during their conversation and the meaning of all the marks and symbols on snack wrappings.

Luo, born to a peasant's family in the suburbs of Chongqing, never even saw a snack wrapper in her life and the teachers at her countryside school never taught her any communication skills. With little access to the wide world outside her rural town, textbook knowledge was all that she knew would appear on test papers.

Frustrated by the failure, Luo weighed the pros and cons of a college education and decided she should quit.

"Even if I take the national test and enter college, the high tuition would be a heavy burden on my family. At the end of four years, I might not even find a job."

The minimum tuition for a Chinese college is 5,000 yuan (714 U.S. dollars) a year, higher than the 4,861 yuan of net per capita income for the rural population in 2008.

Luo decided her best chance was to find a job now and help her parents support her younger brother through college.


While poverty and seclusion have forced at least 10,000 students in Chongqing to quit this year's matriculation at the last moment, some of their city peers are hoping to enter top schools in the United States.

A two-hour bus ride away from Luo's village, the half-empty classrooms of the city's best senior high school, Bashu Secondary School, seem to challenge the authority of the country's top test, which, for many, is the test of their lives.

"Twenty-nine students in my class have been admitted to American schools," said English teacher Yu Ying. "They have quit school and are applying for visas."

The municipal education department said at least 300 graduates from Chongqing's public schools alone have quit the college admission test in order to study abroad.

The same brain drain has been reported at some schools in Beijing. At New Channel, a privately-run English training center, at least 30 students from Beijing's best senior high schools are preparing for the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), hoping to enter an American university.

Most of them get financial and spiritual support from their parents, often well-educated government employees, professors or business executives, some of whom studied abroad themselves.

Unlike Luo Yan, these students have quit the test in a most cheerful way.

Incomplete statistics provided by Beijing's education authority showed at least 3,000 middle school graduates were admitted to American universities last year.

The Ministry of Education confirmed on Tuesday the number of candidates for this year's matriculation was down by 3.8 percent, the first drop in seven years.

It said the drop as a good omen for the 10.2 million candidates, who would be competing for 6.29 million seats -- four percent more than last year.

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