"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Chinese Students Take The Biggest Test of Their Lives

From what I’ve heard, the life of Chinese high school students is intense. But if I’ve learned one thing from college, it’s to not passively accept everything you’ve heard. After getting an inside look at the gaokao, China’s national college entrance examination, I realized there was a glimmer of truth to the rumors I had heard.

After watching the video I said to myself, “Wow I thought I was in a pressure cooker.” I knew that education was highly valued in China, but I had no idea how significant of a role it played in shaping the day-to-day lives and futures of students and their families. From the video, to my surprise, I learned that one student’s parents rented an apartment next to his school so he could have more time to study. The video featured a young student who studied 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a year! That doesn’t even seem possible!

The gaokao is not your average exam. The test lasts a long, grueling two to three days. And the score? The test essentially determines one’s future (no pressure). Their scores determine which colleges they get into (if any), which determines their career, and how they will later be able to support their family.

Considering the heavy emphasis on this college entrance exam, its no wonder the test instigates fear, anxiety, and post-test nightmares. As if the pressure they place on themselves isn’t enough, students also feel pressure from their parents and teachers. Their last year of high school is dedicated to studying for the gaokao, eating and sleeping—nothing more.

Although the Chinese education system may be producing highly intelligent citizens, I believe it is a very unhealthy way to meet such goals in education. Being a college student myself, I know the feeling of studying for days on end, locked up in my room with my nose in a textbook, and surrounded by pages and pages of notes. For me, it’s an unpleasant feeling to study for such long periods of time. And feeling unhappy is not good for one psychologically!

As I’ve made my way through college I’ve learned that balancing my study time, my social life, and allowing time for myself is a skill. I didn’t realize it as a freshman, but it is possible to not make studying the only thing you do and still get good grades. In fact, getting outside, taking breaks, and enjoying time with friends can make one a happier person by reducing stress and making studying all the more tolerable.

Do you think the Chinese education system is harmful or helpful? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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