The college-entrance exam in China is called the gaokao and the stakes are so high that many students hole themselves up in study towns to prepare 7 days a week, 16 hours a day (and I thought my 10-hour day-before study sessions before a final were daunting). 

If a student performs well, then she goes to a strong college and has a better chance of getting a good job. If she doesn't do well, then her career potential plummets. 

Since there are only so many slots in each college, the vast majority of students are disappointed with their scores each year. This fear of disappointment combined with all the existing social pressures and expectations to succeed inspires many students to cheat. And the current crisis of youth unemployment and under-employment has made people even more desperate to get ahead of their peers. 

Cheating has become so widespread and ingenious that the government felt compelled to up its enforcement methods. Whereas beforehand, a student would be scolded, suspended from school and stripped of a test score, now he could be sent to prison for 7 years if caught cheating. 

Cheating threatens to undermine the whole purpose of a merit-based exam, and the severity of the sentence suggests that the system has started to hurt, causing many people to become discouraged and cynical. 

Ultimately, the policy could act as a major deterrent and restore legitimacy. After all, is a possible 7-year prison sentence worth going through the trouble of cheating? 

Some critics believe this new policy could unintentionally deepen the problem. Now--an argument goes--people will be reluctant to report cheating, because they don't want to see a person receive such a harsh punishment. 

Also, the policy could shift cheating away from day-of schemes like smuggling in a device that steathily relays the right answers to, instead, in-advance cheating such as bribing officials to procure a copy of a test weeks ahead of time.

Whatever the outcome, the policy highlights a tough reality in China: sometimes your future depends on a test that you take as a teenager, with opportunities opening and closing like insuperable castle doors. 

Perhaps cheating became such a problem because the system is too difficult and alienating. And perhaps the right solution is not forcing kids to doggedly compete for a slim number of college placements, but instead fostering the diverse potential of every student.


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Cheating on this Chinese college exam could get you 7 years in prison

Ein Beitrag von Joe McCarthy