Yesterday, two reader-arguments (here and here) that the gaokao or 高考, the standardized, nationwide college-admissions exam for students in China, plays a central role in the parts of Chinese education that people inside and outside the country dislike. (On that larger debate, here.)
Since then, a flood of correspondence from people generally offering a "Yes, but..." defense of the gaokao. Yes, it's not connected to "real" education. Yes, it makes students' lives hell. Yes... But: it has other advantages. Or, the obvious alternatives would be even worse -- especially given widespread Chinese fear that any more "subjective" system would certainly be rigged.
Here is a sampling. Judge for yourself -- and be convinced, at least, that allocating educational opportunity in a country with the scale and extremes of China is a complicated business.
1. From a reader in China:
I just read your posts on the nationwide college-admissions exam, the gaokao. While I agreed that this system did focus too much on memorizing books and exam preparation, it cannot be replaced for the current sociaty. The advantage of this universal exam system is relative fairness.
Yes, there are much unfairness in the exam system, i.e. Beijing and Shanghai got too many quotas for the colleges entries, minority groups got extra points, and some can get in based on their privilege and wealth. However, this system is the most fair and practical one compared to all other alternative systems. The American system including essays, reference letters, community service experiences...all too subjective and easy to manipulate in China. The privileged ones will benefit even more from American system and squeeze the poor talented ones out of the best schools.
I am all for a reformed education system to promote innovation. But the first thing the education should achieve is fairness: the best students can be selected to get the best education.
2) From Ella Shengru Zhou, a Chinese student who has just finished college in Beijing and will enroll in a Harvard graduate school this fall. She has worked with me as a interpreter and assistant.
Officially done with my college study today, I feel I just have to say something about the discussion on China's education. I don't think gao kao is the problem in China's education.