The Gaokao is here again, but what about educational equality?

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Editor’s Note

This is an abbreviated translation of an article that appeared in C计划-蓝方 on June 7th. The article appeared in conjunction with the beginning of the gaokao, China’s annual college entrance exam. The unequal grade requirements that students from different provinces face for getting into university constitute an endless source of debate and controversy. The “pluralist admission policies” mentioned towards the end of the article refer to the fact that there are now certain universities that admit students based on other factors as well as the gaokao, for instance their general grade average or internal examinations.

Another round of the Gaokao (National College Entrance Exam) just kicked off on June 6th. The Gaokao is no longer an important event just for the students who take the exam, but it has also become an annual occasion for recall, examination and criticism for Chinese society. Although it sounds like no more than a platitude, people care and always engage in discussion about Gaokao equality. Since we are still far from achieving Gaokao equality, there is never enough thinking and discussions about this topic.

The first main obstacle is the admission policies, which vary across different provinces. Theoretically central subordinate universities are supported by all the taxpayers in China, so they should treat students from different regions equally. However, it has been reported that local students make up 30%, 40% and even 50% of the total admitted student population for many “985 universities” (a group of 39 elite Chinese universities that the government focuses its resources on, in order to create world-class universities). For example, students from Beijing are dozens of times and even hundreds of times more likely to get into Beijing University than students from Shandong, Hebei and other provinces.

The second obstacle is the right for children of migrant workers to take the exam in the places where they currently reside, instead of having to go back to their birthplaces to take the exam, due to the restrictions of the Hukou (household registration) system. As we learn from the provincial admission policies, many universities lower their standards or provide more quotas for students from disadvantaged areas to balance the different educational developments in China. One of the results of this policy has been the phenomenon of so-called “Gaokao migration” to disadvantaged areas. Many students from developed regions migrated and switched their Hukou to disadvantaged areas, like Xinjiang, Ningxia and Hainan, in order to increase their possibility of getting into good universities. To solve this unintentional consequence, educational ministries tied the right to Gaokao with Hukou even more strictly, meaning that you have to take the Gaokao in the place your Hukou belongs to. As a result of this policy, the children of migrant workers have to go back to where their Hukou was registered during their middle-school period to take the exam.

Starting in 2011, many migrant parents started an educational equality campaign to seek for the right for their kids to take the exam in the city where their parents work and live.

While using the exam score as the only standard for college admission has long been criticized however, there are concerns about the new pluralist admission policies as well. The lack of transparency in the admissions process and supervisory mechanisms is the main criticism from a public waiting to see if plural standards can bring more equality in college admission rather than further benefiting the advantaged groups.

Then what can we do after talking so much about it? To think critically and rationally about the reasons behind the policy; to speak, to engage in policy advocate discussions; and finally to act based on rational thoughts. If migrant parents had not acted, the policy of taking Gaokao in a different place would not have been loosened. We can become volunteers, donate money and support educational campaigns.

A more equal education means a more just society and future. It matters to everyone of us.