Crunchtime for China’s High School Seniors

As bilateral talks between U.S President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to take place at Sunnylands, California on Friday, millions of high school seniors in China will sit for a two-day-long National Higher Education Entrance Exam, or gaokao. Dealbook’s Bill Bishop reports:

On those two days, seniors from around China will sit for the annual college entrance examination, called the Gaokao in Chinese. Most Chinese students prepare for years under intense pressure, and families spend huge amounts on tutoring and after-school study sessions. While increasing numbers of Chinese students go overseas for college – nearly 200,000 went to North America for the 2011-12 academic year – the vast majority have no option for higher but to do well on the national exam. [Source]

Despite the time and energy invested in college preparation, Bishop notes that getting into college “does not guarantee a good job upon graduation.” As college attendance rate soars, many graduates find themselves either under or unemployed as the job market struggles to absorb them. The stakes are especially high for rural parents who rely on their children’s earnings to support them in old age.

For students who do not get high scores on the gaokao, studying overseas is increasingly popular, but only for those students whose families have the resources to send them. For Bloomberg Businessweek, Christina Larson interviews one father and his son who is now studying at a state university in the U.S. after getting disappointing scores on the national test:

Raphael didn’t have to tell his parents his score. His father retrieved it online the day scores were released in late June 2011. For a student at one of Beijing’s top high schools, his score was very disappointing. Worse, he had flopped the science section—because he budgeted time poorly, he says, not because he didn’t know the answers. His only option was to enroll at a far-flung university in northeastern China, with little chance of getting back to a job in Beijing, where his parents live and where he had, until then, imagined his future.

[…] The awareness of how much his family is spending on his college education—financial aid is generally not available to —has changed his perception of what he should do next. “I have to make my education pay off,” he says. Instead of aiming for a job in Beijing, he’s now hoping to work in Silicon Valley. He’s been following the news about visa-policy debates in the U.S. and thinks his decision to pursue a degree in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) helps his chances to get a green card. Eventually, he hopes to help his family apply for residency in the U.S. “My No. 1 goal is to do better in life than my father,” he says. “My father brought the family to Beijing, and I will bring the family to America.” [Source]

Read more about China’s college entrance exam and wild gaokao tales via CDT.