University entrance exam is not the be-all, end-all in life

Millions in China took the test this week and it’s important that these young people know that, pass or fail, the future can still be bright

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 June, 2016, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 June, 2016, 11:39pm

Every Asian society seems to have its own version of exam hell. In China, it’s called gaokao. More than nine million high school graduates took the notoriously gruelling annual university entrance exam this week.

On the mainland, it is considered a rite of passage, the only means for most youngsters to have a shot at a university education. The entire nation comes together to enable 9.4 million young people across the country to take their exam on time. It is not an exaggeration to call gaokao the most important academic challenge to their young lives so far. Many may have spent their entire senior year to prepare for this all-important exam.

Hysterical Chinese pupil collapses on ground and threatens to kill himself after poor performance in ‘gaokao’ university entrance exam

They may take comfort from the encouraging words of Stephen Hawking, the world-famous astrophysicist who has a huge following in China’s social media.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of your aspirations,” he wrote on his Weibo page.

Still, it is not the be-all, end-all that many young people and their parents have made it out to be. One needs to be hopeful – and realistic. Only about 60 per cent make it into university on the basis of their gaokao scores. And only 0.2 per cent get into the very top schools such as Peking, Tsinghua and Fudan universities.

‘Be fearless, this is the start of your bright future’: Stephen Hawking to China’s 9 million students taking entrance exams

But top scorers do not necessarily make top achievers. Some recent studies have found that gaokao may not be a good predictor of future career success. In the 21st century, internet-driven economy, the nimble skill sets that are required for success may not be so easily captured by an entrance exam, however well-designed. Some progressive educators even believe that gaokao is out of date and in need of an overhaul.

Be that as it may, it remains true in China that doing well in gaokao and getting into a top school gives one a head start to move up the career ladder.

For those who did well, congratulations. For those who did not, it’s not the only hope in life.