China

China Exam System Drives Student Suicides


Students review for the national college entrance exams at No. 1 Middle School of Handan City, north China's Hebei Province, on May 12, 2014.

Photograph by Hao Qunying/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Students review for the national college entrance exams at No. 1 Middle School of Handan City, north China's Hebei Province, on May 12, 2014.

China’s high-pressure high school and college examination system is contributing to a wave of student suicides, warns a study released Tuesday by the Beijing-based nonprofit 21st Century Education Research Institute.

The Annual Report on China’s Education (2014), also known as the Blue Book of Education, looked at the apparent causes of 79 suicides by elementary and high school students last year, reports the China Daily on May 14. It found that just under 93 percent happened after arguments with teachers or were attributed to the intense pressure to study put on young people.

“The pursuit of high test scores not only brings pressure to students, but also to teachers, making the relationship between teachers and students worse, especially when students perform poorly in exams, which finally leads to some students’ suicides,” concluded Cheng Pingyuan, a professor of Nanjing Normal University and the main author of the study.

The report cited suicides last year by students dismayed by homework burdens and poor test scores, as well as those reacting to the realization that favored schools would not admit them. Most suicides happened in the second half of the school year, from February to July; that’s the period in which the dreaded zhongkao and gaokao are held, the exams that determine respectively which high schools and universities students can attend.

China’s education system is now undergoing reforms, aimed in part at lessening the intense pressure it places on young people. One change is to broaden the criteria by which students are selected for universities, moving away from China’s traditional emphasis on simply one test.

Dexter_roberts
Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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