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All Quiet on the 'Big Examination' Front

Shang Yong, vice-minister of science and technology, is like millions of parents around the country with a single mission on his mind -- to give his son peace and quiet.

Shang Duo sits his National Entrance Examination next week and good grades are must if he is to apply for a place at one of the country's top colleges and universities.

"I won't let anyone disturb my son before the big exam on June 7-8. I want him to have a quiet environment for study," Shang said.

He then joked: "So, my son should be protected like our treasured species, the giant panda."

The annually held exam is considered crucial because future jobs and lives hinge on whether they can enter university.

And competition for places at top education institutions is intense.

Some officials from the Ministry of Education characterize the fierce competition as "millions of troops and horses crossing a single-log bridge."

A total of 4.75 million students will be recruited into universities nationwide this year, according to the Ministry of Education.

Many millions more will be sitting the exam.

Middle schools around the country have stepped up security and demanded quiet from other students as the national exam draws near.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education said as a rule, any people or activities that may disturb students are banned from school grounds at this time of year.

After Spring Festival, teachers mobilize students to fully prepare by doing intensive exercises. But in the last two weeks before the exam, teachers let students relax a little when they have finished teaching and reviewing, Liang said.

"Several days before the big exam, our school has question-and-answer classes, Students can ask whatever they don't understand to teachers at any time," she said.

Zhang Qixiu, a father whose daughter will take the exam, said children's studies have become a team effort for parents, students and schools.

Zhang Ji, a girl at Dalian Yumin Senior Middle School, said she does not feel that nervous.

"I study till 10:30 PM every night. Sometimes I wash dishes after supper to relax myself a little from the study routine," she said in a telephone interview.

The school held a simulated exam before May Day, and Zhang felt a little dismayed by her score. Her father encouraged her by saying: "Cheer up. Whether you can enter a college or not, you are always my good daughter."

Then in another simulated examination, Zhang performed better and ranked fifth among her 51 classmates. She feels confident she will succeed in the national college entrance exam.

Zhang said she wants to apply to China Agricultural University and major in food safety and science because she is interested in food-related studies.

In the last week before the exam, her teachers of maths, English and other subjects will give lectures on how to get ready for the so-called "big exam" including psychological preparation.

During the week-long May Day holiday, Zhang only had a rest on May 1. She went to the school on May 2-3 for special study. Other classmates were also there, with some teachers being ready to answer questions for them. Then classes began again on May 4.

Zhang and her classmates are not alone.

Almost as a rule each year, students throughout China do not get to relax totally during the May Day holiday because they have to revise for the all important exam.

Students get D- for poor health

Students in China maybe sick of endless exams but it is the state of their general health that worries doctors.

Latest figures show three out of four Beijing students due to take the national college entrance exam next week have sight problems -- while only 9 per cent of Guangzhou students were given a sweeping clean bill of health after pre-exam physical checkups.

And all over the nation, students are growing fat, doctors say.

Not only will excessive weight lead to health complications in later life if allowed to go unchecked, but some students may find their college applications will suffer.

Now some parents and school officials are more concerned about the health of the students than the results from their important exams which take place next week.

Health reports released by officials show of Beijing's 113,205 examinees, 74.32 per cent have eyesight problems -- higher than the national average level.

And the eyesights of students in key schools are worse than those of students in other schools, the results revealed.

In Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province in South China, a sample survey showed that only 8.96 per cent passed a check-up with a 100 per cent.

In Dalian, Liaoning Province of Northeast China, 10 per cent of 33,000-plus candidates qualified in all check-up areas. But statistics from the municipal check-up centre showed that 80 per cent of students have near-sightedness of varying degrees.

But if there's an alarming problem among youngsters, it's obesity. The number of examinees weighing more than 100 kilograms is way up compared with last year.

Almost one-fifth of the Dalian candidates suffer from high blood pressure, a problem directly connected to obesity. Furthermore, the extra weight increases the risk of other health complications, said the Dalian centre director, who gave only her surname, Miao.

"Such physical problems would limit them to apply for certain majors in college," she said. One boy in the third grade at Senior High School No 23, whose surname is Liu said: "I have to give up my plan to apply for a military academy due to my near-sightedness." A boy at Senior High No 1, surnamed Ji, who is 175 cm tall and weighs 115 kilograms, said: "Sometimes, classmates make jokes about me, but I don't care much about it."

But he also said he has trouble doing exercises and admitted he's worried other health problems.

Liu Ying, director of check-up centre under the Second Affiliated Hospital of Dalian Medical University, said the main reason for obesity is bad nutrition, but the lack of exercise also makes students put on weight.

(China Daily June 2, 2005)

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