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My Opinion of the GaoKao

Popularity 15Viewed 8541 times 2014-6-4 10:11 |System category:Life| GaoKao

In China it's GaoKao, in America it's SATs. Both are exams designed to test a student's entire academic career. Both are gateways to higher education. In both countries your score dictates the quality of your future education. Low scores do not a Harvard man make - or a Tsinghua one, either. 

While it is true that, in both countries the exam can be retaken, the difference between SAT and GaoKao is that, in China, each student has one shot to go to university, and that one chance is immediately after high school, and predicated on a successful GaoKao. Also, as I understand it, the standards are more rigorous on the GaoKao. 

Before talking about GaoKao, I'd like to address cookie-cutter teaching. Not every student has the same aptitude, not everyone learns the same way. Some are visual learners who absorb knowledge better with charts, pictures, etc. Kinesthetic learners need hands-on experience to optimize their intelligence and auditory learners absorb by hearing lessons, in the form of lectures and the like. Clearly the present teaching method benefits the latter, leaving the other two types at a disadvantage.

Likewise, cookie cutter testing is only beneficial to a small group of students: those good at rote memorization. I contend those are auditory learners. Ironically, kinesthetic learners are good at writing - a mechanical skill. (As I understand it, writing is a large part of the GaoKao) So: if the current method of instruction is beneficial only to about one third of the students but testing is geared toward a different third, how can we say that this exam fairly measures every student's intellect?

In America a college student can experience a broader slice of life - working, co-habitated relationships, living off campus, possibly even marriage and children. In China the focus is strictly on education. Some students take part time jobs and campus activities range from special interest groups to further academic pursuits but essentially, students are limited to college life: living in a dorm and focused on classwork. Whereas in America, college aged students have varied life skills like cooking, driving and managine money, most of my students here have no idea how to prepare food or budget. I aver these skills broaden a young person's perspective, while narrowly focusing on education stunts students' social and life skills, leaving them learned but unprepared for the world.    

Now, back the to the GaoKao: I believe it is unfair to students. That single marker should not be an indicator of future success and family honor. Having only one shot at higher education, and that education dictating their status in society puts undue pressure on children who actually have only a vague idea of what social status/success means. Already these children feel the pressure of family legacy. The all too real possibility of failure puts undue strain on them. 

Reducing the weight of the English score, or doing away with it altogether is a small but meaningless gesture toward easing that pressure. If English is taught from the students' first academic year, as math and Chinese is, removing it only serves to indicate that English is not that important after all. Allowing points for civic contributions and/or morality is equally unproductive. Surely we want moral, educated citizens leading society, but good people sometimes test poorly, and the added points might not make that vital difference between college entrance and being doomed to serve fries at McDonalds.   

For all that, I don't believe the GaoKao should disappear. Instead I believe that students should be allowed to experience life a bit: work, volunteer or maybe just travel around to gain some sort of social experience and a perspective on the wider world. Perhaps capping college entrance age at 20 would allow students time to figure out where they want their life to go and how to get there. By forcing students to prolong their academic career when, after 12 years most are burned out on formal studying does our future and society in general a disservice. Testing - GaoKao'ing by age 19 will give students a chance to choose their path and give them renewed energy to get there successfully. Also, a year untethered to the education machine would show them what the world is really like, fueling their desire to improve their station in life... or not. Finally, a year off from studying would give the students a 物极必反 cushion before plunging further into academic endeavors.       

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-6-7 17:55
teamkrejados: Cookie cutter testing (education) is the same test, administered to everyone at the same time. Imagine making cookies: the mold or press cuts dough to ...
Ah, ok. Yes then I one hundred percent agree. I have a friend who I thought was a genius but he just doesn't learn well in conventional schools. He can't just sit down and copy stuff as his mind is waaay too active but when given room and some creativity, he really excels at whatever he does.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-7 22:18
KIyer: Who exactly is mourning the lack of critical thinking modules in Gao Kao? Do the majority of Chinese believe that it has been designed excluding quest ...
As far as I know there are plenty who bemoan the GaoKao. As I understand those who have experience taking it, most of it does indeed deal with memorized material. But, I never claimed to be the be-all and end-all of education...
You pose great questions, Klyer. They would make a great discussion in our forum. Anyone out there care to clear this matter up? Thanks!
Reply Report KIyer 2014-6-8 05:08
seanboyce88: Ah, ok. Yes then I one hundred percent agree. I have a friend who I thought was a genius but he just doesn't learn well in conventional schools. He ca ...
you say "He can't just sit down and copy stuff as his mind is waaay too active but when given room and some creativity, he really excels at whatever he does."

which means he cannot really excel at certain things he might have to do - like sit down and copy stuff or write down what is in his mind. While everyone excels at something, everyone is poor at somethings too..
Reply Report 286633460 2014-6-8 10:15
teamkrejados: It is difficult to choose when your options are not known.
can't be more agreeable.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-6-8 17:49
KIyer: you say "He can't just sit down and copy stuff as his mind is waaay too active but when given room and some creativity, he really excels at whate ...
But that's the point, he has a mind that just doesn't fit well with the conventional way of learning. As a result, he didn't do too well in the exams even though he is really intelligent.

And when I said he cannot sit down and right stuff, I mean like things he is not interested in that a requirement in high school, like maths.

Everyone does excel at some things and are poor at others, but I think the point of the blog is showing how this "cookie cutter testing" is not an accurate or fair way of testing someone's talents because if it falls outside what they are testing for, they won't find it
Reply Report KIyer 2014-6-8 20:27
seanboyce88: But that's the point, he has a mind that just doesn't fit well with the conventional way of learning. As a result, he didn't do too well in the exams  ...
the primary purpose of the test is to filter and eliminate enough people to fill in the right number of positions available with qualified candidates. the purpose is not to test each student in the best light keeping in mind their differences in learning..Keep in mind that the number of applicants far exceeds the available number of seats. So, the existing system is good and fair, IMO
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-8 23:53
KIyer: the primary purpose of the test is to filter and eliminate enough people to fill in the right number of positions available with qualified candidates. ...
While I agree with you that the test may serve its designed purpose, it tends to filter out genuinely talented people who have the knack for thinking outside the box. Don't you think we are doing society a disservice by excluding such unconventional thinkers?
There are some whose higher order thinking capabilities at a young age causes them to be bored with standard learning methods throughout their academic career.
And what about students who are autistic? there are kids who are brilliant at conceptualizing, but cannot intellectualize. They can draw ideas but cannot verbalize them. They tend to  fail in school and fail every other standard test. Is it fair to 'weed out' such an intellect for the sake of balancing 'viable' candidates against available seats?  
My argument begs the question: if such learners/thinkers are poor in standard academics, why should colleges provide a place for them? Because unfortunately, mainstream society demands a piece of paper decreeing someone as 'learned'.
So, essentially we are literally shunting the most progressive thinkers and potential doers to the sidelines while society trudges on, as it has for centuries. History is rife with such examples. The education arena is the place to make changes that will ensure non-standard intellect finds a place in society.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-9 00:00
seanboyce88: But that's the point, he has a mind that just doesn't fit well with the conventional way of learning. As a result, he didn't do too well in the exams  ...
Thanks for your support, Sean. I'm with you 100%. Very interesting discussion.
Do you have any in-depth knowledge of the GaoKao? Klyer asked if the test involves only rote memorization, or if there are critical thinking questions on there as well. To the best of my knowledge, it is straight facts and right/wrong type answers, except for the composition. But then, I have no first hand knowledge of what is on the test.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-6-9 08:02
teamkrejados: While I agree with you that the test may serve its designed purpose, it tends to filter out genuinely talented people who have the knack for thinking  ...
Some qualified people will have to do without seats when there is a limited number. The test filters and finds people who are qualified.
It is not that the best ones will be filtered out. I dont buy that argument. The ones who do better in the tests definitely deserve to get through. One needs to create more opportunities by growing the economy for others. It is not a problem with the exam, but a social problem. The USA, UK and all competitive societies function well on these principles. They have seats available in excess of domestic demand. So they can afford to bring in some differently abled people.
I think many in this blog unfairly slam the GaoKao or the Chinese system. They have to accept that when demand exceeds supply, some have to do without in a fair system. The system is fair.
At least the Chinese universities do not have some nonsensical admission requirements like some Western universities that require a dress code, restricted hairstyle, or character reference from a religious authority,  over and above GRE, SAT scores.even if you are there to study science or engineering... Einstein would not have gained admission to a few of these...
Reply Report KIyer 2014-6-9 08:06
teamkrejados: Thanks for your support, Sean. I'm with you 100%. Very interesting discussion.
Do you have any in-depth knowledge of the GaoKao? Klyer asked if the t ...
I dont believe or buy the argument that GaoKao is ONLY rote based and does not require critical thinking and application. That is hogwash in my opinion. When I see the people who have made it through the system - they are well ahead, on the average, to the students who, on the average come through the western system of schooling and testing, particularly in subjects that require critical thinking - math and the sciences. English is the forte of the west and in my opinion it is an artificially created, needlessly complex language that gives the native speakers an unfair advantage.. It is not critical thinking that makes people good at English - it is rote memorization and practice of mindless, needlessly convoluted details.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-6-9 09:32
KIyer: Some qualified people will have to do without seats when there is a limited number. The test filters and finds people who are qualified.
It is not th ...
We are in agreement about this being a social problem. That's good    And I agree with you about 'target' schools that admit based on criteria such as religion or race. I even disagree with the American affirmative action policy that demands a certain percentage of seats be reserved for 'minorities'. I believe you told me the same thing happens in India.  
I think I might have been misunderstood, KIyer. I'm not slamming the GaoKao or promoting the American system. The point of my entry is to decry the testing system in general - the social problem, as you've recognized; and suggesting students in China be allowed a break between high school and college testing to gain some practical experience and get a better perspective on the importance of higher education in order to avoid study burnout.
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2015-9-17 09:54
It's not a bad idea.  BUT, you run  the great wall of parents.  They worry so much about their kids not "winning" or not being competitive that it is hard to imagine many of them supporting such a system.  Lots of students take a year off by doing as little work as possible during their first year of college (LOL).  A pilot program might be nice, but getting parents to support something different that they would see is risky seems to me to be unlikely.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2015-9-17 10:40
PatrickInBeijin: It's not a bad idea.  BUT, you run  the great wall of parents.  They worry so much about their kids not "winning" or not being competit ...
A great thing about this purported hacking is that old articles are now coming to light
Thanks for your opinion, and I agree with you: familial urgency will take a long time to abate. And, even if a gap year were acceptable to Chinese society, parents would most likely urge their young to continue as before, presumably because those diligent (or made to be diligent) students would have a year's jump on those who dally.
'Duty' is a heavy yoke in this culture. I'm not optimistic that it will be shrugged away so easily, no matter how much students rebel against old norms or how progressive some parents are. Even if they are progressive, collective shame would drive them to continue pushing their kids ever onwards and upwards.

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