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Exam reform to unleash more potential of China's talent pool

Xinhua, September 5, 2014 Adjust font size:

For years China's education system has been chastised for its exam-driven curriculum, focusing only on memorizing textbooks and getting good test scores.

But sweeping new changes to the national college entrance exam, the single most important test of a student's high school career, will see an emphasis on all-around development in pursuit of the country's untapped talent.

The college entrance exam, also known as gaokao, has been called a single-log bridge to success, the only way for youth to obtain a promising career beyond vocational training.

It's also considered a baton between the country's primary and secondary education, with preparation for the test beginning as early as six or seven years old.

This year alone more than 9.4 million students sat for the national exam in June. With limited slots for university education, competition for entrance into higher education institutions is cutthroat and heavily reliant on test scores from the gaokao.

As a result, students are often trained to focus only on test scores, memorizing endless lists of textbook answers instead developing a sense of independent and innovative thinking.

A plan announced Thursday by the Ministry of Education hopes to broaden the scope with a more comprehensive evaluation system for college enrollment and more choice for students.

Apart from the mandatory subjects of Chinese, mathematics and English, candidates under the new system, will be allowed to choose three others among political science, history, geography, physics, chemistry and biology, depending on personal interest and college enrollment requirements.

Previously, students have only two sets of test subjects to choose from: political science, history and geography, or physics, chemistry and biology. They were required to choose which tests they would base their career on after only one year of high school.

Under the new arrangement, students are given the opportunity to explore their potential while learning a wider range of subjects to establish a more solid academic foundation.

Greater freedom for choosing exam subjects means more opportunities for students to make better use of their strengths in the exam, which will encourage them to invest more efforts into the subjects they are truly interested in and will approach with passion.

The new reforms also aim to look beyond just gaokao scores, with more importance awarded for high academic performance in high school.

For the English exam, generally acknowledged as the hardest subject for Chinese students, they will have the opportunity to sit the proficiency test twice and choose the best score for use in college entrance evaluations.

It's hoped the new arrangements will reduce, if not eliminate, pressure on students while providing more room to hone unique gifts and personal interests.

Famed Chinese philosopher Confucius once observed students should be taught in accordance to their aptitude. The reform plan can be regarded as a kind of salute to the sage's wisdom.

For a country with a population as large as China's, the quality of its talent pool is an essential precondition to its economic development and national strength. The reform is necessary.

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