Published on Friday, 27 July 2012 18:11
About the speaker
Mr. Songhua Tan is a doctoral supervisor, a member of the National Education Advisory Committee, the Head of the committee's Examination and Enrollment System Reform Working Group, and the Vice President of the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy. He is also the chief designer and decision maker for the Gaokao examination and its strategic development.
ith the intention of providing deeper insights into the Chinese education system, the Ameson Foundation hosted a keynote speech in Beijing on Monday July 23 by Mr. Songhua Tan entitled "Challenges facing Chinese Gaokao and development strategy.”
In attendance at the forum were 21 senior officials from world-leading universities plus numerous reporters from such prestigious publications as the China Daily
This was the second keynote presentation of the International Seminar on Globalization and China Education Strategy hosted by the Ameson Foundation (the other was a keynote presentation on Globalization and China Education Strategy by Mr. Zhengguo Yuan, President of the National Institute for Educational Scientific Research).
Other events that day there included a pair of deeply stimulating panel discussions in the afternoon – also designed to provide western academics with deeper insights into Chinese education trends and developments.
What follows is a summary of Mr. Tan’s presentation:
The assessment methods utilized in the Chinese education system are still in the development phase. A key strength of the Gaokao examination is that students are assessed according to clearly defined parameters, which can ensure that basic education standards are met by the majority of students. 21 senior officials from world-leading western universities attended the presentation as guests of the Ameson Foundation
However, the assessment is too one-sided – it over-emphasizes academic knowledge, while the assessment techniques are too focused on testing, which cannot adequately reflect students’ holistic levels and progress.
According to Mr. Tan: “Our assessment techniques are rather outdated. For example, test results cannot show in what areas a student excels, and in what areas he needs more work. Further, test scores do not effectively indicate whether a student is making progress, nor can it gauge the extent to which the student has progressed. This causes students to obsess over their textbooks, but with very little effect. In the worst case, students gradually lose their self-confidence, and this has an effect on their overall healthy development.”
The status of Chinese education reforms
China has made education reforms a top priority, but these reforms are still in the earliest stages. The keys are: Ameson Executive Vice Chairman Prof. Sean Zhang posing a question about Mr. Tan's presentation
- Establish standards for educational quality on the educational foundation of our curriculum
- Comprehensively assess students’ development levels
- Improve assessment techniques
- Systematically interpret the results of these assessments
- Provide appropriate feedback to students and teachers
- Provide a healthy amount of constructive criticism
- Create a comprehensive, multi-faceted assessment of all kinds of knowledge and abilities.
Background information about the Gaokao
The Gaokao exam was established in 1952 and crafted by government scholars. Its rules, content, time, location and method are all decided at the national level.
Curently, testing and university admissions are both supervised by the same government department. The process is as follows: students choose what schools they want to go to and submit this informaiton to the provincial government, who collects this information and their tests results. Students are then grouped into 5 classes, and sends student information to schools based on their results and the schools they wish to attend. Then, the schools select which students to enroll from the scores that are provided to them by the provincial department of education.
Today, in addition to the Gaokao, 90 universities have their own admissions test for selecting students.
Realistically addressing problems
Mr. Tan gave a frank appraisal of Gaokao's shortcomings
The system was set up the way it was to ensure social fairness. While regional differences and the rural-urban disparity make objective assessment of all Chinese students with a single test impossible, the reality is that since a better alternative does not exist, the Gaokao is the most widely accepted – and most fair – assessment.
With competition as fierce as it is, Gaokao is the most economical, and the least controversial method for universities to select students. Thus, there is little incentive for universities to advocate for reform.
According to Mr. Tan, “The Gaokao can no longer meet the requirements of today’s society – a society where the economy is developing quickly and university education is becoming more and more accessible."
Mr. Tan fields a question from an audience member
During the latter part of his presentation, Mr. Tan outlined several contextual reasons why reforming the system is necessary.
- Student variation: not all students are the same. Therefore, using the same method to assess all students hinders the diversity that universities can achieve
- Competition: using just one test turns Gaokao into a competition for high scores, which makes higher education superficial
- Rigidity: there is no room for interpretation in Gaokao results, which hinders students in displaying their own diverse talents
- Regional differences: from a macroscopic point of view, China needs a system that can be used both in rural and in urban areas – which can separate talented students from less talented students, while concurrently sorting out the relationship between schools and the government, and also maintaining a proper balance between macro-level management and self-determination for schools.
To conclude his discussion, Mr. Tan emphasized that a reformed system must allow schools and local education bureaus to select students that they feel would make good leaders.
This would allow students to receive a comprehensive high school education, after which they may be placed in the appropriate university, college, or vocational school to help them develop to their full potential.
Attendees at Mr. Tan’s presentation included: Mr. Michael C. Behnke (retired) former Vice President for University Relations and Dean of College Enrollment at the University of Chicago; Ms. Adele Brumfield, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Ms. Sunny Chen, Beijing Manager for the University of Melbourne; Dr. Anne DeLuca, Associate Vice Chancellor for Admissions and Enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley; Dr. Zina Evans, Vice President for Enrollment Management at the University of Florida; Mr. Shawn Felton, Senior Associate Director of Admissions and University Recruitment Coordinator at Cornell University; Mr. Benjamin Gatlin, Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Vanderbilt; Ms. Wendy Holden, Acting Executive Director of Admissions at the University of Melbourne; Ms. Deborah Ann Kammerer is the Interim Associate Director of Outreach, Recruitment and Yield for the Office of Admissions and Relations with Schools at UC San Diego; Ms. San Lee, International Regional Recruiter and Admissions Advisor, University of California, Davis; Mr. Angel Perez currently serves as Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Pitzer College; Ms. Lisa Przekop currently serves as the Associate Director of Admissions at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Mr. Walter A. Robinson, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of UC Davis; Dr. Owen Saxton, Senior Research Associate in the University of Cambridge Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy; Dr. Vu Thanh Tran (retired), the former Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Relations with Schools at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Dr. Patricia Wasyliw is the Assistant Dean of Academic Advising and Admissions in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University; Ms. Doris Davis, Ameson Foundation Senior Vice President. For further details about each participant, please click here.