In China, public education is free but competitive. There are examinations in middle school to determine which high school one will be placed into. In each city the high schools are ranked; the higher one’s scores are, the better high school one can attend. Many high school students live on campus because their family may not live nearby.
It used to be extremely difficult to go to college due to the huge pool of students and the small amount of colleges. During my mother’s time, only one or two students from a high school would be accepted into a college. Everything was determined by examinations taken at the end of the senior year of high school.
Now, though it is easier to get a college education, it still is rare to be accepted into a high-ranked college. Test scores still are the main determinant. This year, June 7-9 were the national testing dates for high school seniors. On these days, all the test takers in the nation gathered at designated testing centers to participate in the most important written examinations of their lives.
I went walking one afternoon and happened upon one of these testing centers. There were hordes of nervous parents waiting outside the gates to pick up their children. Police had to direct traffic and close down the road in front of the school to control the crowd. At around five in the afternoon students started to stream out of the school. Most were chattering with friends, relieved to be done with a hard day of testing.
In my opinion the Chinese education system focuses too much on rote memorization. There is little emphasis on creativity, leadership, or independent thinking. The importance placed on test scores and class rank puts too much pressure upon students. This is not to say that the American system is perfect either. After all, American students fall far behind Chinese students in areas such as math and science. However, a more holistic approach to education college admissions that look at the whole person instead of just numbers may lead to a more diverse and vibrant class of educated citizens.