China Bans Written Exams for Young Students

In an effort to try and ease the burden on parents as well as students in a highly competitive education system, the Chinese government is ordering schools to drastically cut the number of exams.

Students used to be required to take exams from the first year of primary school up until a university entrance exam at the age of eighteen. The education ministry said the pressure is harming the “physical and mental health” of pupils.

As reported by BBC, in a statement, the ministry said: “Exams are a necessary part of school education…. [but]  some schools have problems like excessive exams, that cause an excessive burden on students…this must be corrected.”

The Chinese ministry of education has released a notice specifying rules that also limit the number of tests and exams a school can set per term. According to the rules, the first and second graders of elementary school would not need to take paper-based exams, while the schools can organize a final exam every semester for students of other grades.

“Mid-term exams are allowed for junior high. Localities are not allowed to organize regional or inter-school exams for all grades of primary school,” the Ministry of Education (MOE) added. But these mid-term exams are in different subjects based on the progress of the student.

This policy is being imposed as part of a broader state initiative to ease pressure on students and parents in the highly competitive Chinese education system, the ministry said in an online statement. This is only a part of wider reforms in China’s education sector.

Ban on Private-Tutoring

Previously in July, the Government also announced a ban on private for-profit tutoring firms operating in the country that helps students get ahead in different subjects. This is to control them from making profits from teaching core subjects.

In addition to the ban of exams and private tutoring, the new guidelines also restricted foreign investment in the industry and disrupted the private tutoring sector. It was worth around USD 120 Billion (INR 8821050000000) before the overhaul causing a stock market sell-off and a wave of lay-offs in the once-lucrative education industry.

According to VICE, the government said the goal is to take some pressure off students as well as to cut their parents’ education spending. It is also to ensure children’s healthy growth. Some analysts have said authorities also wanted to strengthen the dominance of public schools and encourage people to have more children, reports Viola Zhou for VICE.


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The new guidelines are part of the wider reforms in China’s highly competitive education sector wherein education inequality is also a problem. More affluent parents are willing to spend thousands to get their children into top schools. The country’s obsession with education also affects property prices, with wealthier parents snapping up property in school catchment areas.


Rules for Schools

The ministry forbids after-class tutoring sessions by schools. The announcement says that schools cannot extend nor adjust the timings of classes or teaching schedules at will, but extracurricular activities to enrich students after school has been allowed.

Teachers, as well as retired teachers and volunteers, are being encouraged to host such classes. China’s Ministry of Education has also banned schools from giving homework to first graders. Schools were asked to give limited homework for junior high school students of 1.5 hours a night, as per AFP reports BBC.

“Non-graduating junior high students are also not allowed to organize weekly tests, unit exams, monthly exams, etc,” (which is a common practice of the past, the VICE reported). “Examinations disguised under various names like academic research are also not allowed,” end-of-semester exams should focus on “basic knowledge” and not be too difficult, according to the education ministry.

The ministry furthermore added that teachers should not rank students according to their test results, publicize the scores in parents’ chat groups, or arrange students’ seats depending on the scores. It said schools should adopt innovative ways, such as artificial intelligence and big data. These should be used to assess students’ performances in a wide range of areas, including sports, arts, and morality.

The American application Duolingo, which is a global language-learning app was pulled from Chinese app stores, following the announcement, according to South China Morning Post.


What do people think of the new guidelines?

Giving exams is also widely believed to be the most effective way of making sure students have grasped what they have been taught in class, and these measures run against a longstanding tradition in Chinese schools. Schools in the country frequently test and rank students to prepare them better for a grueling college entrance exam that comes at the end of high school.

Therefore, this policy has triggered a backlash on the internet as China’s social media platform Weibo saw mixed reactions. Given the intense and tough competition to get into better high schools and universities, people are questioning if it will only make the lives of students, parents, and teachers more difficult.

Some say it was a step in the right direction to relieve pressure on children, while others questioned how schools will test and measure abilities without exams.

According to VICE, one of the top-voted comments under a state media post on the microblogging site Weibo said, “How do we find out their study progress if we cannot test them?” and the critical comments were later removed. Viola Zhou also reported that some parents said they would have to arrange their own exams at home to make sure their children are keeping up with school.

“Primary school is for laying the foundation,” another Weibo user commented, as per VICE. “If children cannot learn and get used to written tests at this time, and are not able to catch up later, whose responsibility is that?”

“If a child cannot cope with exam rankings, how do they cope with the tougher challenges in life?” an internet user commented.


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