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Chinese students start exams in biggest 'gaokao' ever

The number of students in China taking this year's multi-subject tests series is set to be a record high
A student enters a school on the first day of the national college entrance examination, known as 'Gaokao,' in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province on June 7

A student enters a school on the first day of the national college entrance examination, known as 'Gaokao,' in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province on June 7. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 07, 2024 05:14 AM GMT
Updated: June 07, 2024 05:20 AM GMT

Mothers in crimson dresses and fathers clutching umbrellas huddled together in drizzly Beijing after sending their children into an exam hall on June 7, the first day of China's biggest ever "gaokao" tests that will shape the futures of millions of high school kids.

The number of students taking this year's multi-subject gaokao series is set to be a record high, with the Ministry of Education saying that 13.42 million candidates have registered for the high-stakes tests.

"People say that this is the start of a life," 50-year-old mother Zhi Haihong told AFP. "So one cannot slack off."

Zhi donned a traditional qipao dress to bring her daughter to the examination site in central Beijing, in the hopes that its auspicious bright-red colour would offer good luck.

China's gaokao drills high school students on various subjects including Chinese, English, mathematics, science and humanities, the results of which are critical for gaining admission to university.

High-level education has expanded rapidly in China during recent decades, as an economic boom pushed up living standards -- as well as parents' expectations for their children's careers.

The job market that fresh graduates now enter is no longer as rosy as it once was, as the world's second-largest economy struggles to achieve a post-pandemic recovery, with high youth unemployment representing a significant concern.

"I think this is a necessary process of growing up," said Zhi when asked if she thought young people face great pressure to pursue their studies.

The gaokao "is also a method for the country to select talented people," she said.

"Only after undergoing pressure can one's mental tolerance increase. Then you will be able to withstand these pressures in the future when working in society. I think this is understandable," Zhi added.

Praise from space 

A list of top trending topics on social media site Weibo on June 7 morning was studded with exam-related discussions, with many users sharing pictures of uniform-clad students exchanging high-fives and hugging their parents before entering testing centers.

The official Weibo account of China's Chang'e-6 lunar probe -- which began carrying samples back to Earth from the far side of the Moon on June 4 -- also chimed in.

"Every one of you that is striving hard is terrific," it encouraged.

Education authorities are on high alert each year ahead of the exams since elaborate cheating attempts have been uncovered in previous years.

Areas around testing centers are often tightly controlled, with traffic diverted and honking prohibited to ensure a comfortable environment that will allow test takers to concentrate.

On June 7 morning, Sun Song, a 45-year-old father, stood under an umbrella chatting with other parents after seeing his daughter off ahead of her first exam.

"It will be enough if she can find a job she likes and get into a school she likes," Sun told AFP.

"As long as the kid is happy, it's enough."

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