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They also serve who have no diplomas
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By Lisa Carducci

The news of more than 10 percent of China's high school graduates choosing not to sit for the National College Entrance Exams this year made me think, and not ironically so, that it was good for the country.

The limited number of seats - fewer than 3 million - in the country's universities means that only three in every 10 candidates can be admitted. Besides, not all of them will earn a diploma four years later.

A diploma may not be more than a piece of paper, but Chinese society is such that very few doors open for people who don't have one. Many parents start dreaming about their children earning a diploma even before they are born. The pressure on kids begins before they start going to school. Students aim to take the National College Entrance Exam right from the beginning of their 12-year primary, middle and high school. They have had no other choice, but things may have started to change now.

Can't a candidate have knowledge and even the indispensable ability to do a job without possessing that "piece of paper"? After all, a diploma does not recognize all the skills a person can have. Are people who don't pass the entrance exam necessarily bad? No, because it's not an educational problem, but a social problem: lack of enough seats in universities to accommodate all students.

As a high school teacher for almost three decades in Canada, I was often approached by parents who begged me to talk to their sons and daughters who were not interested in going to a university. Instead of talking to the students, I tried my best to make the parents understand that if the world were made only of intellectuals, it could not work. I also explained to them that there are all kinds of talents and skills that youngsters could develop by getting admitted to a trade or craft institute, or even learning them on their own.

Society needs skilful plumbers and bricklayers, firemen and nurses, businessmen and entrepreneurs. In Europe and North America, or for that matter in any other part of the world, these skills are not developed in universities. One can attend a technical institute or even a night class to learn any one or more of them.

The day Chinese understand that a person is not only a brain, and that a brain is not only a bag filled with knowledge gathered from books, it will open more courses for youth to learn the skills needed in leather, shoe and garments industries, or for hydraulics and refrigeration, car or computer repair, therapy and massage, bakery and cuisine, farming and veterinary medicine, singing and acting.

I know a self-made receptionist. She learned English on her own, and speaks the language much better than some university students who have majored in English but couldn't get the chance to practice speaking. With knowledge of the world no school offers, she faced competition and won over candidates who had diplomas.

What has to change is people's mentality. One is not a nullity because he or she didn't attend a university. People can use their intelligence in manual work as well. What is the worth of a society where you can't find a good mechanic who repairs your motorcycle without a hitch, a clever bus driver who understands what you are asking him, a newspaper vendor who knows the content of the papers and magazines he sells, a policeman ready to help and capable of taking an initiative. These qualities come from good training - sometimes on the job - and mostly because these people use their practical intelligence.

Let's stop looking down on those who don't have diplomas because they have skills that books don't offer. A person's experience is worth as much as a pile of thick books learned by heart.

(China Daily June 16, 2009)

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