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Students in Quake Zone Prepare for College Exam amid Uncertainty

Wang Huabin, 18, sat in a quake-proof temporary classroom with more than 30 classmates Thursday morning in Ningqiang County, Shaanxi Province.

The temperature was 30 degrees Celsius in the Ningqiang No.1 Middle School's makeshift rooms, and the sound of trucks splashing through the mud from an overnight rainfall could be heard.

His chemistry teacher was talking about catalysts, and the words escaped Wang from time to time, but he tried to focus.

Like 10 million other Chinese teenagers, Wang had dreamed of getting through the College Entrance Examination, which will be on June 7, and entering a good university, "like the Xi'an Jiaotong University," he said. But his dream crumbled as the earth moved beneath his feet on May 12.

"I don't quite remember what happened that day," Wang said. Five people were killed during the earthquake in Ningqiang, which straddles the border between Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces.

Wang and his classmates ran out of the school without their books. He fled to his home, which is 30 km from the county seat, and stayed there for three days before he came back to the Ningqiang No.1 Middle School.

"The teaching buildings were badly damaged. I stayed in a tent on the school playground that night with 15 of my classmates who also got back to school on their own," he said.

But their loss went beyond damaged buildings.

Said He Shiyong, vice headmaster: "We are fortunate that none of our students or faculty members were killed in the quake.

"But the quake has far-reaching influence: many students, and some teachers, are still in shock. We have also lost quite a lot of study materials, which has made teaching very difficult.

"Sometimes you can still feel aftershocks. It is really disturbing," he said, grimly.

"I am afraid the students won't do very well in the college entrance exam. I think each of our students will lose at least 50 points because of the shock over the earthquake," he said, adding that the total score for the College Entrance Examination in Shaanxi is 750.

A good score will mean a good college, a better job and a better life.

Unlike Sichuan and Gansu, Shaanxi Province does not have any favorable policies for students affected by the earthquake, such as exam postponement or bonus points.

"There are 1,921 students in Ningqiang County who will take part in the college exam, and among them, 1,169 are from our school," said Lu Yangan, a teacher with the Ningqiang No.1 Middle School. "They will all take part in the college entrance exam in makeshift classrooms and tents on the school playground."

Lu, a teacher for more than 21 years, said the psychological shock the earthquake exerted on the students might be their biggest obstacle.

"Sadly, we are not trained to provide counseling in this area," Lu said. "We are doing everything we can to make sure our students can bring out their best in the June 7 exam and to ensure their safety.

"Aside from academic assistance, the school is providing free accommodation for each exam participant. They will also receive a 150 yuan subsidy to purchase school supplies and other necessities," he said.

The subsidy is equivalent to about US$21.

"We are doing everything we can, but still it's not that much. The students are on their own now. Their future is in their own hands," Lu said.

Wang Huabin gets up every day at 6:10 AM and studies until 11:00 PM.

"Sometimes, when I find it too distracting to study in the makeshift classrooms, I climb a nearby hill and read my books at the hilltop. If I work really really hard, it is easier to put the bad memories behind me," Wang said. "Life should move on, I think."

"I know students in Sichuan Province have more favorable policies for enrollment in colleges whereas we have none," Wang said. "Well, I think I can live with it. They suffered more losses than we, after all."

Wang said Xi'an Jiaotong University in Shaaxi's provincial capital Xi'an is still his first choice for further studies.

"But if I feel really bad about my performance in the exams, I will choose another university in Xi'an. After all I have been through for the past month, I don't want to be too far from my parents."

(Xinhua News Agency June 6, 2008)

Related Stories
- National College Entrance Examination to Be Postponed in Quake-hit Areas
- Students in Quake-hit Areas Prepare Upcoming College Entrance Examinations

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