Exams and IVs in the ‘World’s Cleverest Country’

The intense pressure facing high school students as they prepare for the controversial “gaokao” college entrance exam is well known. As 9.5 million candidates fiercely compete for the 6.5 million available seats in China’s post-secondary institutes, they do so under high expectations from their parents and grandparents, as the “One-Child Policy” often puts hopes for security in old-age on the shoulders of a single young student. Preparing for this make-or-break exam can wear a student down, and there have been reports of the extreme measures sometimes taken to keep them going:


The footage from above was taken in a Hubei high school. Images of the scene have been circulating the Internet since a student posted them on her Weibo account last week. ChinaSMACK has translated the original press coverage and a collection of netizen reactions. Shanghai Daily has more on the use of intravenous study aids in Hubei classrooms:

Xiaogan City No. 1 High School said each student was subsidized 10 yuan (US$1.6) by the provincial education bureau for amino acid injection to relieve their stress ahead of the National College Entrance Exams.

But the [Hubei education] bureau denied giving amino acid injection subsidies, the Beijing Times reported today.

[…]Li Jingren, a Beijing doctor, told the newspaper that the abuse of amino acid could harm to the students’ health and each bottle would cost nearly 100 yuan.

Sun Zhongshi, an expert with the State Food and Drug Administration, said students are prone to get cross-infection when receiving injections in the classroom. “Whether amino acid can improve memory remains a question.”

Global Times quoted a teacher from the Hubei high school, who was interviewed by local media:

“Some students were not feeling well these days due to the bad weather. As the exam is approaching, more students are coming for the IV drip at the clinic than its capacity can hold,” the teacher said.

“It is for this reason that the school has decided to let students have drips in the classroom.”

[…]Students may not need to use the IV drips but they are willing to give it a try when they see their classmates are doing so, Yang Dongping, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, an NGO that researches educational policy, told the Global Times.

“It is useless to talk about whether it is effective to have IV drips for energy supplement at the moment. The case shows the competition for entering a prestigious college is extremely harsh for these students,” Yang said.

As fierce competition leads to questionable practices on the domestic stage, it may also be contributing to Chinese success in international student assessment campaigns. In 2009, students in Shanghai outshone those in the U.S. on global assessment exams administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, leading to an internal debate about the merits of China’s education system. The next round of the OECD exams takes place this year, and BBC looks at the 2009 results to ask if China is the “world’s cleverest country”. They talked to Andreas Schleicher, coordinator of the OECD’s international exam, for his take on China’s statistical superiority:

Mr Schleicher says the unpublished results reveal that pupils in other parts of China are also performing strongly.

“Even in rural areas and in disadvantaged environments, you see a remarkable performance.”

[…]The Chinese government has so far not allowed the OECD to publish the actual data.

But Mr Schleicher says the results reveal a picture of a society investing individually and collectively in education.

On a recent trip to a poor province in China, he says he saw that schools were often the most impressive buildings.

[…]”You get an image of a society that is investing in its future, rather than in current consumption.”

There were also major cultural differences when teenagers were asked about why people succeeded at school.

“North Americans tell you typically it’s all luck. ‘I’m born talented in mathematics, or I’m born less talented so I’ll study something else.’

[…]”In China, more than nine out of 10 children tell you: ‘It depends on the effort I invest and I can succeed if I study hard.’

“They take on responsibility. They can overcome obstacles and say ‘I’m the owner of my own success’, rather than blaming it on the system.”

Also see prior CDT coverage of education in China, the college-entrance exams, and the stress that students face in preparation.


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