For students with the highest scores in China's National College Entrance Examination (gaokao) from 1977 to 1998, pursuing further studies or going abroad are the first options after graduating from college. Among all the superlative test takers, 40 percent chose to chase their dreams overseas, according to a report on the career development of outstandingly-performing gaokao students released on August 6.
Going abroad or pursuing further studies are primary options
Almost all examinees taking the crown in the gaokao excel at college studies. Only a small portion of them chose to get a job after graduation. The majority went on to earn a master's or doctorate degree in China or in other countries, based on the report. Among 350 people covered in the survey, some 40 percent headed overseas.
"The government should find a way to keep those top students at home. It makes no point to train them if they would not serve the motherland," says Cai Yanhou, director of the report and a professor at Central South University. He also suggests that the government should grant scholarships for students majored in fields that are in dire need for development.
Top test performers can be under-performers in the workplace
Interestingly, gaokao-crown-takers failed to be cited as Outstanding Entrepreneurs or Outstanding Politicians in 2007 China University Prominent Alumni List. In the academic arena, none of them won Cheung Kong Scholar Awards or awards for academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering.
The report indicates that students with stellar performances in exams would not necessarily out-perform others in the workplace, according to Cai.
As the crème de la crème, students ranking top in the gaokao would usually make their way to the most prestigious schools in the country, enjoying the best education in China. Surprisingly, however, their career development often falls short of public expectations. They really made it into the limelight through their test scores yet ended up mediocre after the dust settled. Such contrast deserves attention from Chinese society and deserves reflection in the educational sphere.
In-depth analysis of the report
a. Most top test takers chose a career irrelevant to their majors at school
Most top test takers landed jobs without much relevance to what they actually learned at school, according to the report.
One of the major reasons behind their lackluster work performance is due to the fact that these students didn't have clear career objectives upon entering college. Many simply followed the crowd and picked the most popular majors.
Their energies and educational resources were both wasted. This is something educators should reflect upon.
b. Top-notch gaokao students concentrated in a few schools
After 1999, top-notch gaokao students have been intensely concentrated in a few schools. Some have shifted from the mainland to Hong Kong institutions of higher education beginning in 2005.
"It is not a favorable trend for all top gaokao examinees to flock into a small handful of schools. Advantageous majors at other not-so-famous universities are great choices as well," Cai said.
In terms of picking majors, Cai believes that these elite gaokao students selected their majors according to Chinese societal demands from 1977 to 1998. But currently all of them plunge into the popular professions to please themselves. He feels that the government should give State Scholarship to students and encourage them to major in critical areas such as energy and environmental protection.
Gaokao crowns aren't barometers
"Gaokao is a one-time only test, it can neither demonstrate all past achievements, nor indicate anything about the future," said Wang Xuming, spokesperson of the Ministry of Education (MOE), on August 6. He also critiqued the mindset that measures educational performance by the number of top gaokao students churned out. "The Ministry of Education does not encourage publicity or awards for the best gaokao performers," he added.
It is true that it requires years of effort to produce exceptionally high scores, but test results can hold an element of chance. High scores do not always signify high ability, according to Wang.
He also commented that post-college performance varies among these exceptionally lucky children. Some continue to shine among their peers, while others end up mediocre. He hopes that schools and society will judge a student's capability fairly and objectively while making an effort to produce well-rounded graduates.
Wang admitted that some people still erroneously believe top gaokao examinees must also exceptionally talented. In fact, the gaokao is not the only standard for measuring a person's abilities.
Recent Gaokao stars exhibit well-rounded abilities
"In addition to high scores, the best performers in the gaokao after 1999 were also students with well-rounded abilities," says Wang Jisheng, research fellow at the Psychology Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Despite extraordinary performance in the test, they are just ordinary persons, according to Wang. Many crown-takers told him that they would perhaps not do so well if they were to take the test for a second time.
Wang has interviewed over 400 first-rate gaokao examinees since 1999. His research sheds light on the fact that students who excelled in the test after 1999 were not merely bookworms. "Some believe they are egg-heads and only book-smart, while others think of them as child prodigies. Both are wrong and need correction," Wang explained.
Wang also found that these students may not be the smartest, but they have the best learning skills. They can analyze problems as well as memorizing in detail.
Less than 10 percent of crown-takers left their marks on the history
Guo Wan, a student with the highest scores in the 1977 Beijing gaokao, now tutors Ph.D. students at the World History Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He enjoys special government allowances of the State Council.
According to Guo, becoming a zhuangyuan (crown-taker in China's Imperial Civil Service Examinations) was really a big deal in ancient China, but less than 10 percent of them left a stamp on Chinese history. There were two men who took the No.1 title for three consecutive years during the Qing Dynasty. Both of them ended up unknown and unsung, Guo told Beijing News.
He noted that most zhuangyuans in the past were studious and upright people who preferred books to climbing up the bureaucratic ladder. Many of them even quit their government jobs. They headed home and buried themselves in their books.
"I'm 60 years old now; I have dedicated my whole life to my studies. My name has never hit the headlines but I have no regrets," Guo said when asked whether the title of No.1 gaokao student brought him any extra benefit.
(China.org.cn by Zou Di, August 10, 2007)