Exam cheating becomes a criminal offence in China.
Students who cheat in China’s national university entrance exams could now face criminal charges. Named the Gaekao, or “high exam”, this tough national test is taken by more than nine million students who are vying for just 3 million university places. It takes place over nine hours over two days in June and results determine which university students will go to.
The huge pressure to perform well has meant that in previous years many students have resorted to cheating. But this year the stakes are even higher as anyone using underhand means are facing up to seven years in jail. They will also be banned from taking any other national examinations for three years.
The Gaoko is a notoriously hard exam testing school leavers on their Maths, English, Chinese, and another science or humanities subject of their choice. Such is the prestige of this exam - which has been a feature of Chinese education since 1952 - that those failing it face limited workplace opportunities, often reduced to low-paying blue-collar jobs. Owing to China’s previous one-child policy, many students are only children, increasing the pressure to succeed and support their parents and grandparents and avoid family disappointment.
Due to this pressure, exams have always been closely monitored to prevent cheating. But students have tried all means of tactics to get around it, from hidden earphones and watches, to T-shirts with built-in receivers.
Authorities have previously installed metal detectors at entrances to deter students sneaking in smartphones, and to scan students’ shoes. Security was so tight this year that SWAT teams accompanied the exam papers and police officers were deployed in test centres across the country. Last year, officials in Henan resorted to deploying a drone carrying a radio scanner to spot cheats.
Chinese parents desperate for their children to get into the best universities have even employed surrogate exam takers. Several million yuan is paid to people who are willing to take the exam on behalf of their children. Real photos are forged onto identity cards with the personal information of the real exam candidate.
There are also short-term gaokao nannies – usually highly educated and successful graduates - who are paid top rates to move in and help students study. Some parents even pay for hotel rooms near the exam centres to minimise travelling time on the day. Despite hotels charging high prices, many rooms are fully booked each year.
One person full of encouragement for the students is Professor Steven Hawking, who took to the social media website Weibo to wish 2016 students good luck, saying they are the “next generation of big thinkers and thought leaders”.
Once exams are over, it’s customary for Chinese students to tear up their textbooks and throw them out the window. Other ways to de-stress include smashing watermelons and stamping on balloons.
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