China’s tough college entrance exams made tougher by coronavirus

By Jesus Centeno

Beijing, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- The biggest concern these days for Mr. He, the father of one of the millions of young Chinese students sitting college entrance exams this week, is not COVID-19 but that his son scores well in the “gaokao” exams and gets admission into the best possible university.

Hundreds of parents, sunshades in hand, anxiously waited for their children to come out after the tests, which will play an indelible role in deciding the course of their lives.

“I am much more nervous than my son,” Mrs. Li, who waited outside Chen Jinglun School – one of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions in Beijing’s Chaoyang district – told EFE.

A total of 10.7 million students are expected to take this year’s tests, which will be held until July 10 depending on the province, amid stringent preventive measures to check the spread of the novel coronavirus, including the wearing of masks in the examination center.

To minimize the risk of infection, gaokao was postponed by a month from its original date.

In Beijing, many parents have had trouble keeping their children motivated during months of lockdown, especially after a resurgence in cases around the end of June that forced the plans for reopening schools to be suspended.

“This year, students need more self-control and perseverance than ever before. Students who are mentally strong will get good grades. The last two months have been very hard, and COVID-19 has psychologically affected students,” said He, one of the parents waiting at the exit.

Meanwhile, Li explained that her son had taken a Mandarin examination in the morning and would sit another in mathematics in a few minutes.

“In China, selection is a point of no return. There is a lot of competition and only if you get a good result can you go to a prestigious university. It’s a definitive moment for your career,” she explained.

Taking into account the number of candidates and the number of seats on offer, approximately three out of five students will be able to pursue higher education, while one in 20 will enter the country’s leading universities.

Many parents sign up their children for special tuition, countless extracurricular activities and language courses – especially English, one of the mandatory tests.

The levels of stress and anxiety are so high that the authorities provide psychologists to help young people get through the process, with the demand rising this year due to the impact of COVID-19.

Several psychologists were kept on standby to attend in case of a call to help calm students’ nerves.

“Students have not been able to receive guidance in person, they have had to study by themselves and you have to be aware of this difficulty. They have to be focused and it’s not easy, especially on an emotional level. The epidemic has fallen on students like a bombshell this year. It’s a very different ‘gaokao,'” Professor Chen, who works at the institute, explained.

Ming, a young volunteer at the center who took the exam last year, underlined that “the most important thing is to stay calm, not to get carried away by distractions.”

Li intervened and narrated how she spared no efforts for her son’s preparations to fulfill his wish of studying civil engineering.

“We take him by car. He has to always go with the mask on, he carried disinfectants, everything. The important thing is that he stays focused,” she stressed.

Meanwhile, the students were subjected to temperature checks and made to keep physical distance before entering the examination halls.

Once inside the premises, they were assigned their respective examination halls – all of them disinfected – with a seating capacity of 20, aimed at maintaining social distancing.

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