China and South Korea’s college entrance exams postponed

After weeks of uncertainty surrounding the exact dates of China’s high stakes college entrance examination known as the gaokao, normally held in June, the ministry of education in Beijing announced on Tuesday that the examination would be postponed for one month until 7-8 July due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement means that no gaokao exams will be held before July, but some local governments, particularly Hubei province, the epicentre of the viral outbreak which was in shutdown from 23 January, and Beijing may postpone the exams further. Some 10.71 million students are registered for this year’s gaokao exam.

The ministry said that the undergraduate admissions process would also be delayed by a month compared to previous years. This means undergraduate admissions would end at the end of August with specialist admissions completed by mid-September. “The start of the autumn term in colleges and universities will also be extended accordingly,” the ministry said.

In China’s Jiangsu province schools resumed classes this week with staggered times for different year groups to arrive at school campuses. Nine other provinces begin face-to-face classes for gaokao students by next week.

“Given the different online study conditions across urban and rural areas, the impact on some students preparing for the exam in villages and poor areas has been much greater,” the ministry said on Tuesday.

The gaokao postponement “will allow candidates more time to concentrate on studying according to the teaching plan, thereby maximising educational equity”, said Wang Hui, an official in the education ministry who is in charge of the university sector.

“High school students have had to stay at home so their preparation for the gaokao has been affected,” Wang said. “The internet divide between urban and rural areas means that some students in rural and poorer regions have been more affected by this epidemic.”

The ministry added that special “personalised arrangements” will be in place for particular groups. It said special one-on-one tutoring may be necessary to help students to catch up.

Heat of summer, risk of typhoons

Some provinces, however, have objected to the gaokao being held in the heat of summer, while there is also increased risk of typhoons in some coastal areas during July.

“In view of the high temperature weather and natural disasters that may occur in some areas during the college entrance examination, all localities must effectively prepare for heatstroke and cooling and prepare for various plans, and organise emergency drills for disaster weather to make every effort to ensure that the college entrance examination is held safely and smoothly,” the ministry said.

While the education ministry is particularly concerned about students in rural areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds, proposals for the Hubei provincial government to give extra gaokao points to the children of frontline medical staff in the province were opposed by others outside Hubei.

The authorities said in February that gaokao students whose parents were frontline staff would get 10 extra points on the gaokao and would be given priority for entry in popular university subjects if they were applying to universities within the province.

Some parents said the date changes for the gaokao would prolong the stress for students, who were already badly affected by lockdowns, family disruptions and possible disease and death in the family.

South Korea

In South Korea the national college entrance exam sat by around 500,000 high schoolers, scheduled to start on 19 November, will now begin two weeks later, on 3 December. The start of the school term was postponed three times in March. Classes will now begin on 9 April but online, South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Tuesday, beginning with high schools. Primary school classes will resume by 20 April.

Many private cram schools have continued to operate in South Korea, while schools were closed, with new government guidelines issued last week to increase distances between individual pupils. Just one in 10 cram schools in Seoul were closed last week, according to official figures.