China: When studying hard doesn't get you into college, there's always corruption

The obsessive amount of attention paid to Gao Kao (高考)—China's university entrance exams—each year suggests either collective national psychic trauma or an education system ready for some reform. Although the majority of related blog buzz could be seen surrounding the two days of testing earlier this month, in which eight million students participated, scores started coming back earlier this week giving rise to a new discussion over what many are saying is the sketchy practice of awarding additional test points to athletically-inclined students in an already troubled education system.

Sina blogger Xu Xiao writes of a new law in southern China's Hunan province which offers bonus points for high-performing athletes ranked at the provincial level and above: twenty points for each of the top six athletes in individual events or the top three team members in group events, and ten points for students ranked second or above at the national level. Seen in the post-exam conversations though, are strong claims that many students with wealthy or powerful families are having more points added to their test score than their athletic abilities would suggest.

Official numbers regarding those Hunan city students qualifying under the new regulations numbered a mere 3,407, blogs Xu, but one student's mother was quoted estimating at least ten thousand, including students with—”endless hilarity,” said the mother—less than spectular finishes in track and field, basketball and martial arts. Blogger Fei Bingjia questions the worthiness of some of those extra point grantees and wonders about those students ‘testing naked’ (裸考), competing for university admission on their pure test scores alone:


In the midst of this cut-throat ‘national test’ competition, where just a single point can change a student's life destiny, under what circumstances should heaven drop down a piece of the pie, twenty free points? On what basis are Gao Kao points added? Where is the rationality? Where is the fairness? If your kid was ‘testing naked,’ like many families you too would have these sorts of doubts of the ‘point-add’ system. As someone who once stood the Gao Kao, there's something I just don't get: is the calculation of these twenty extra points decided by the relevant departments? Or worked out scientifically?


We might as well consider the little folk for a second. With the lucky ones receiving twenty added points, are there any who got them through fishy means? If points are given to those having faked their way into the ‘point-add’ camp, wouldn't those rushing into battle nakedly be all the more done wrong by? Don't tell me you don't believe it. These past few years stories of fake minorities, fake sports stars and fake straight-A students haven't stopped stopped for a bit. Not long ago, even Xinhua News reported on middlemen using illegal means to get fake ‘overseas Chinese’ documents for Gao Kao students. And how many still haven't been reported?


Now, the number of Gao Kao point-add categories are increasing. The test site is like a war field. As long as these point-add categories exist there will be parents racking their brain and working their connections to find a way, using fake information and fake certification to ensure their children get points added. Before the battle's even begun, those students lucky enough to have had points added go in as though with a sword in hand, taking a position of advantage in the field.

One teacher, in preparing her students for this year's Gao Kao, wrote back in March of being ordered by school higher-ups to award her twenty points not to the student who most clearly deserved them, but to another student with a better family background. After expressing discontent with the decision, the teacher was told not to ask too many questions.

Xu Xiao, mentioned above, looks at why this problem exists and adds some examples which back up Fei's claim of students having bonus points added under shady pretenses:


These ‘sports competition champions’ are not just two or three, but in the hundreds. This isn't a joke, but something that really happens in mainland China!

这种明目张胆的集体作假宣告了高考加分制度的弊病和不可行。高考加分制度的本意是好的,是提倡和鼓励素质教育的一种举措,对单一的考试也是一种有益的补充。但再好的制度也是人来执行,中国还远不是一个完善的法制社会,金钱和权力还相当顽固的影响着社会的公平。本来最容易体现素质教育的体育和艺术教学却成了最易让金钱和权力介入的腐败暗道,难怪“水货”充斥考场,不仅是“水货”“体育竞赛优胜者”,只要能够加分的“优惠”条件,金钱和权力都能介入,各地不断出现的“假少数民族”、 “假华侨考生”就是证明,也难怪什么分也不能加的“裸考”反而成了最公平的高考。

These kinds of brazen groups take advantage of the Gao Kao point-add system's known deficiencies. The Gao Kao point-add system was once a good idea, it calls for and encourages all-round development in education, a beneficial supplement to the testing itself. But the system is run by people. China is far from a perfect legal society. Money and power still maintain a rather stubborn influence over fairness in society. What were once the easiest places to instill a character quality education, sports, art and math have since become the most susceptible to money and power corruption. No wonder ‘smuggled goods’ fill the exam site. Not only are ‘smuggled sports competition champions’ getting a point-add requirements ‘discount,’ but money and power are being introduced as well. Proof would be the continuously seeing everywhere of ‘fake minorities’ and ‘fake overseas Chinese.’ No wonder the no-points-added ‘naked testing’ has actually become the fairest kind of Gao Kao.


Why Gao Kao point-adding doesn't fly is because this society of ours’ checks on and restrictions of power exist in name only. Otherwise, how could this kind of group fraudulent behavior be carried out so blatantly? The only explanation for this blatant fraudulence being carried out is those people in society with respect, power and influence. According to reports, “both lanes of the road are parked full with cars for about a kilometer straight.” “The reporter notices license plates and car models from the judicial and security branches to road administration of various places, as well as those from other governmental agencies. One student's parent said those without the connections and background, how can they have an opportunity to get a championship qualification certificate? Aren't these cars the best explanation?” What does this ‘best explanation’ tell us? It tells us that all those daring to openly cheat all have their authority backing them up. Or to put it another way, Gao Kao point-add in some places has already become the ‘fruit’ carved up by those in authority.


Speaking to the significance of this, as long as authority is not subject to checks and restrictions of power, without a doubt the sun will burn out before we can count on the good point-add system being implemented fairly and justly.


Therefore, until there comes a time when authorities are subject to checks and restrictions of power, I think the point-add system should be scaled down.

How many points does one need to be accepted into a college or university in China? Do twenty points really make a difference in the end? Fresh high school graduate, fascinating blogger and Zhejiang—home to the purportedly best education system in the country—native Ahom Kwok, aside from posting several times on his Gao Kao experience, came up with a chart comparing the the varying admission scores standards for first and second-tier universities for students from different provinces.

Provincial test score admission levels. â??Ahom Kwok

On a more constructive note, Sina blogger Wu Xiangyang puts forth some practical suggestions how the Gao Kao point-add system might be reformed and problems removed:


Flies won't go where there's no stench. Therefore, we shouldn't fixate so much on the students and their parents per se, but rather the Gao Kao point-add system. I think the point-add system needs to be examined, especially in those parts of the system which are not transparent and do not permit open inspection of the flaws. With the current system, unregulated testing staff often bow down at the feet of authority, money and personal and other types of relationships. In some places, the student recruitment and sports departments and other departments with authority even trade in on their authority for benefits and shortcuts.



I think components of the Gao Kao point-add system should be infused with more sunlight. After all, sunlight is the best kind of disinfectant. At the same time, the number of people in control of the proceedings should be reduced, allowing them to carry out the process and results of point adding in an open manner, subject to society's inspection, creating a legitimate and sunny point-add process. Actually, what I anticipate the most is to have the policies, clauses and particulars of the point-add system opened for the public to see, to break the education department's closed-door policy and let the public get involved with the process of setting these policies. This way, not only would it benefit the public, but answer their demands for fairness. It would also prevent benefits of the Gao Kao point-add system from falling once again to the hands of the education department.

In other blogging news: Microsoft blog provider MSN Spaces’ self-initiated decision late last year to shut down the renowned Michael Anti's blog there put them on many peoples’ black lists, leading eventually to a US Congressional hearing and earning the company several months’ worth of bad publicity. Six months later, Microsoft has given him (and themselves) a second chance. Yes, Anti is back. His most recent post [zh] looks at, what else?, Taiwan independence:


Acutally, as China and America jointly manage the overall situation in the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan independence is fading away. Add onto that the current Taiwan independence force's corrupt and morally-weak standing off to the side, and Beijing has never held as authority over the future as it does today. Beijing's recent move in opening up holiday chartered flights is just a move to encourage [Taiwan president] Chen Shui-Bian from stepping down. Of course Beijing hopes to keep their beloved Ah Bian and use his scandal [#069] to secure Beijing's advantage, because anyone with a stained record can always be put to good use.


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