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Students, Teachers Brave Uncertainties

Liu Jie had planned on visiting the historic town of Lijiang in Yunnan Province after taking the national college examination on Saturday.

But the May 12 quake in Sichuan Province shattered that dream.

The authorities had to postpone the national exam in quake-hit regions in Sichuan to allow for relief and reconstruction work.

Close to 100,000 students in Sichuan have applied for this year's college entrance exam, the Ministry of Education has said.

As the exact date of the exam has not yet been announced, Liu and his classmates in Mianyang Nanshan Bilingual School are currently living - and studying - in great anxiety.

"We hope an exact date can be set as soon as possible so that we can make plans accordingly," the 19-year-old said with frustration.

Without a clear idea of what lay ahead, Liu said it was hard to concentrate on studying for the exam - considered a life-changing event for many high school graduates nationwide.

Liu was previously studying in a high school in Qingchuan, one of the worst-hit counties in northeast Sichuan. He had to transfer to a new school in Mianyang because it became impossible to have lessons in Qingchuan.

"The school building was badly damaged," he said.

All the students' textbooks and study materials were also left in Qingchuan during their evacuation. It made studying for the exam particularly trying for students like Liu.

Liu currently attends lessons in the five-story bilingual school in Mianyang, which includes six residential buildings that had survived the quake. But no one has dared to sleep in them for fear of aftershocks.

Instead, four large makeshift tents have been set up on the school grounds for teachers and students.

Each tent includes two large beds with bamboo mats placed on top of steel frames. One bed is big enough for about 80 students to lie side by side.

But Liu said lack of sleep is now one of the major problems facing those at the school.

After having lunch in a common dining hall one day, Liu had tried taking a nap before the start of four lectures.

It was a typical hot summer day in Sichuan. The 40 C heat in the tent forced him out into the open again.

Without electricity to power a fan, let alone an air-conditioner, Liu said he might have become a "steamed dumpling" in the tent.

"I had to walk back to the classroom and rest on a chair instead," he said.

He found almost all of his classmates there.

"It was not the first time," he said.

"Without adequate rest, everyone feels particularly tired in the afternoon."

Despite these difficulties, Liu said he must concentrate on his studies and think positively about the coming exams.

And when asked what he would like to study in university, Liu said the quake changed his priorities.

"I want to apply for a course in construction now, such as architecture or civil engineering," he said. His original plan was to study management.

"The reconstruction of my hometown requires professionals," Liu said.

Fortunately, in Liu's case, all his family members survived the quake unscathed. Their home back in Qingchuan was also left standing.

Liu is considered one of the luckier ones in his school, where some students have to cope with the loss of loved ones in the quake.

Li Qiao, who is also facing the exams, lost her mother when their house in Nanba town, Pingwu County, collapsed in the quake.

The 18-year-old is not giving up.

"It was my mother's strong wish for me to enter a good university," she said.

Li told China Daily she got news of her mother's death from her head teacher He Qiurong three days after the disaster struck.

She had burst into tears immediately.

"All my classmates tried their best to comfort me, and Teacher He stayed with me for days," Li said.

"I told myself that I must be strong I must study hard."

Li said she plans to study finance in university. She will find a well-paying job because that is one way she can help her family.

"I also want to set a good example for my little brother, who is still in the first year of middle school."

Li singled out the uncertainty of the exam date as the biggest obstacle facing her.

Her teachers share that worry.

Head teacher He said a review of classes in preparation for the exam had always been scheduled in three steps, in which the last step - the final round of sample exams - should have been finished by this time.

"But now, my colleagues and I can only extend the third step indefinitely and let the students do more sample exams each day," she said, adding that teachers were finding it tough to come up with study timetables without a set date for the examinations.

The teacher also said that her colleagues have to deal with personal losses from the quake above and beyond their responsibility to students.

"It is only right that we give priority to the students. It is our duty," she said.

"But teachers here need help too. Sometimes we feel we are like a forgotten group of people," she said.

She said more concessions should be given to students in quake-hit areas, such as how they are graded and the level of difficulty of the exams they take.

By the end of May, the Education Ministry had already required all Chinese universities to modify their enrolment by increasing their places for Sichuan students by 2 percent.

Universities in other parts of the country have made similar measures.

The Harbin Institute of Technology announced that examinees from 40 quake-affected areas would get 10 bonus points to help them in their college admissions.

The China Agriculture University and the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics also said they would provide extra subsidies and scholarships for students admitted from the quake-hit areas.

But mental adjustment is the real solution for students and teachers in quake-hit areas, a Chinese pedagogic expert said.

Students must find ways to cope with stress and release whatever pent-up emotion they have from the disaster because it can be difficult to get an adequate number of psychologists to help them, Beijing Normal University's Professor Hong Chengwen said.

"Students can write diaries and even blogs to release their stress," Hong said, adding that keeping busy is a good way to ease the pressures they face.

He suggested that all graduating high school students set specific goals for themselves.

"They also need to believe in the integrity of the examination system and in themselves," he said.

(China Daily June 5, 2008)

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