Up all night studying but still feel hopelessly unprepared for an important exam? Well, the Nanjing No. 1 High School is piloting a solution. They have set up a “grade bank”, where students who would normally fail a test can borrow points to push them to a pass. However, in order to repay this loan, students must then get even higher grades in subsequent tests. They can also do extra work in the form of lab experiments or public presentations as a form of credit. The scheme remains in a pilot phase, and is currently only open to advanced students in the international department. As with a real bank, borrowed points incur interest, but students can repay their debt in instalments. Any students with a debt left at the end of the term receive a “red mark” on the record. So far, a quarter of the students in the pilot program have borrowed from the bank.
Early reports indicate that most students only need to “borrow” one or two points, a difference which isn’t huge, but which can make a significant psychological impact. The scheme hopes to neutralise some of the pressure of China’s infamous gaokao, an exam which many consider paramount in determining the path of a young person’s life. The Directors of the school, who are on record as criticising the significant impact of the gaokao, have stated that the system aims to allow students to use exams to evaluate progress, correct mistakes and improve their studies, rather than make life difficult, punish those who fail and destroy student enthusiasm.
Attempts to reform China’s current exam culture are clearly needed as new scandals concerning the gaokao surface annually. Pictures of students hooked up to amino acid IV drips from 2012 can still be found online and suicides, prompted by the study pressure, are not uncommon (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-05-15/china-exam-system-drives-student-suicides). One school, Hubei’s Hengshui No. 2 High School, went as far as to install anti-suicide barriers after two students took there own lives. In 2011, Ming Yafeng of Hubei Province, sat the exam just three days after emerging from a 21-hour coma as a result of a car crash. A year later, a student identified at “Shen Fei” hit the headlines after emerging from the gaokao to discover that his mother had died in a car crash twelve days previously, while his father remained in the intensive care unit of his local hospital. A conference between teachers and family members was held and a decision made to keep this information from the student so as not to break his focus on the exam. Such cases are reported in part because of their extremity, but Nanjing No. 1 High School’s grade bank may be one small, positive attempt at reshaping what many are calling the world’s toughest exam culture.
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