Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Interesting front page article in yesterday's paper. This is a big event in China. This year 8.67 million high school graduates will be competing for only 2.3 freshman seats in China's universities. I was amazed at these figures, but I checked them out with my students, and they assured me that it really is that competitive.

It is hard for American's to grasp the significance of this elimination, because there is nothing in the American way of life that correlates to the National Entrance Exams in China. Of course, American students take the SAT tests, but they are not taken as seriously, because they are not required. I remember when I was a high school senior, and the SAT tests were announced. I didn't want to show up, because it was on a Saturday, and I hadn't really made up my mind to go to college. I'm not really sure why I did take them--I guess I figured I better have my SAT scores available just in case. In the end, it's probably a good thing I did take them, because when I finally decided to go to college, my SAT scores helped me to get a quick student loan. The banker put my scores into the computer, and the computer told them to give me the money. But they just don't have the import in America that the National Entrance Exams have in China.

American educators have always prided themselves in the fact that they use tests for "placement," not for elimination. To a large extent, this is true. But there are cases where SAT's can be an eliminating factor. If you are applying for a scholarship to an Ivy League school, your scores could put you at the bottom of the list, or off the list. In my case, I didn't want to go to an Ivy League school. I wanted to go to the countryside and be a school teacher. But in China, you can't just say, "I don't care about entrance exams--I just want to go to the normal university and become a teacher." It doesn't work that way. At first glance, you could easily attribute it to a difference in educational philosophy--Americans believe in using tests for placement, while Chinese believe in using tests to eliminate people. But the truth is quite a bit more basic and fundamental. It comes down to a simple matter of limited resources. There just isn't enough to go around. That is by far the most noticeable difference between American culture and Chinese culture. It shows up in many areas, but very dramatically at times like these. In America, low SAT scores could mean that you would have to go to the local university, instead of an elite private school, but even that is not absolute, because admission, even to top schools, is based on a variety of factors. But in China, the National Entrance Exams literally mean the difference between getting an education, and working in the fields in the hot sun.

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