by David Safier
Ah, if we could only be more like those Asian countries whose students top the charts on international standardize tests! Maybe so, maybe no.
The NY Times has an article about China's national college entrance exam, which, unlike our SAT, is the sole (or almost sole) determiner of what college high school students get into.
In a country where education is so highly prized, the score that a student earns after the days of testing at the end of high school is believed to set the course of one’s life. The score determines not just whether a young person will attend a Chinese university, but also which one — a selection, many Chinese say, that has a crucial bearing on career prospects.
But debate appears to have grown more heated lately over the value of the gaokao (pronounced gow-kow). Critics say the exam promotes the kind of rote learning that is endemic to education in China and that hobbles creativity. It leads to enormous psychological strain on students, especially in their final year of high school. In various ways, the system favors students from large cities and well-off families, even though it was designed to create a level playing field among all Chinese youth.
Students spend their last year or two of high school in a test prep pressure cooker. A growing number of parents who can afford it are sending their children abroad for their college educations to avoid the testing mania. (In other articles, I've read about Korean mothers who take their children abroad to avoid the oppressive atmosphere of their schools while the father stays behind and struggles to support two homes.)
There may be one positive, unintended consequence from the intense testing pressure. It's led to high tech cheating which may spur innovations in technology. Some students have been caught using small monitors shaped like erasers that transmitted test answers. And then there's the bra-cam -- small cameras hidden inside students' bras. (Sarcasm alert on this last paragraph, though the two cheating tecniques are written about in the article, and the pic comes from a Chinese article on the eraser-cam technique.)