Bilingual kindergartens, international schools, rented houses near the most prestigious institutes: in China, raising children is the fear and hope of many families, who invest in the education of their children from an early age. The goal, for everyone, is to arrive at the final exam of the high school cycle, the Gaokao (高考), with the best possible preparation. This year, the first day of the tough university admissions test took place under strict anti-Covid protocols, including vaccinations for all staff, molecular swabs, temperature screening, disinfection and ventilation of the exam rooms.
An appointment awaited by the whole country. After the postponement of a month last year, the exam is therefore back on the usual dates, 7 and 8 June. The exam is the largest collective event organized in China since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with nearly 11 million candidates in around 7,000 locations throughout the country, and thousands of people involved in the organization.
In Gaokao, the final vote is often a watershed. On the basis of the evaluation obtained at the exam, students will be included in the admission rankings to universities. The most prestigious institutes, located in large cities, are closed by scores that border on perfection: and for those who do not live in the metropolis, access is even more difficult. Entering one of the best universities in the country means having greater opportunities to access the upper echelons of public administration or to be recruited by leading companies. And a successful career means greater family security even when retirement time comes for parents.
2 days, 18 hours of testing. Up to 16 hours of study per day are spent for this appointment, from six years of primary school, to three years of junior high school, to the final three years of high school. The race to Gaokao starts from the most distinguished class within the institute, made up of the best students; goes to the best school in the neighborhood; arrives at the best school in town, the ideal springboard for the longed-for access to the university of one’s dreams. Who ranks first in the examination at the provincial level is a zhuàngyuán 状元, a real “ace” whose merits are celebrated on public occasions. In the best schools, there are several hours available for “self study” (zìxí 自习) which include the time before the start of morning lessons, the early afternoon hours and some evening hours, after dinner.
Competition at the highest level. The study is therefore the activity that defines most of the hours of Chinese children since childhood. The luckiest families are able to settle in rooms and apartments near the top schools, a factor that facilitates access to them, or they enroll their children in extra-curricular courses in search of some talent that can further distinguish their children. Instead, the poorest have to get by on their own, motivated by the slogans posted in the classrooms: “no pain no gain” (“there are no results without sacrifices”), “good good study, day day up” (“improve day after day with a good study “),” knowledge is power “. Waiting for the day that will mark their recovery.