China’s National Exams Stifle Creativity

Source: The Marketplace,  Jun 2011

the people best known for their respect for education and love of knowledge have constructed an education system that makes Chinese students, the very same hardworking and brilliant students who dominate international mathematics competitions and science laboratories, incompetent and stupid.

He won’t know how to question and to think. He won’t know how to sustain an intelligent conversation or seek self-improvement. His head will be stuffed with trivial knowledge, and he won’t know how to send a polite and effective e-mail. He’ll be socially awkward, and have the maturity of a 12-year-old. But he’ll have passed the national examination and will have hopefully mastered ‘Counterstrike’ —and so when looking for work he’ll expect a lot of responsibility and a big pay cheque.

If all China’s national examination system did was make many Chinese students incompetent, then I guess that wouldn’t be so bad. There is, after all, a gifted and talented cohort of Chinese students, as multinationals and US graduate schools can attest to, who survive the system. But there’s in fact a much more fearsome problem with the national examination: it trains students to be utilitarian and unethical.

Effective parents and educators know that they shouldn’t reward a child for his performance on tests, but rather should offer positive specific feedback for effort and attitude. But in China, all that matters are test scores, and students have been indoctrinated to see their point of pride, raison d’être, and even their identity as their test scores. That’s why Chinese students, contrary to popular perception, see learning as pointless, hate studying, and commonly cheat on tests.

China’s national examination system stunts the physical, emotional, and mental development of students, making them anti-social and ultimately unemployable. Moreover, because this system encourages individual competition in a zero sum game, it fosters unethical and short-sighted behavior among students, behavior that is an inherent instability in the system. But, as employment prospects for fresh university students grow dimmer and cheating becomes even more rampant, the system has only more grown more entrenched and stronger, to the point where elementary school children now must stay up until midnight to do homework.


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