New policy brings schools on a level playing field

From 2021, students will be tested in all courses taught in middle school to give them a broader foundation for the future, according to the city's education authority.

New policies on middle school graduation exams and high school admissions have been announced by Shanghai’s education authorities.

Currently, middle school students need to take both a graduation and a high school entrance exam. From 2021, they will only have to take one.

However, the subjects tested will increase from the current eight to 15, covering all courses taught in middle school.

“We decided to test all the courses to build a broader foundation for middle school students to achieve all-round development, which will also enable them to have more choices in high school or even university when choosing their future paths,” said Jia Wei, Shanghai Education Commission’s deputy director.

Under the current exam system, many students would focus on subjects to be tested, such as Chinese, math, English, physics and chemistry, while neglecting those not tested, such as history and arts. Listening and speaking will be added to the English test under the new policy.

And while students are judged “pass” or “fail” in physics and chemistry experiments, this part will contribute 30 points in total to be used in high school applications from 2021.

The new policy also introduces an “interdisciplinary case analysis” test which requires students to use what they have learned to analyze and solve real-life problems.

The commission said the new policy is aimed at encouraging students to develop logical and critical thinking, rather than merely reciting what they have learned. In history and rule of law, students will be evaluated according to their daily learning performance and via tests which require them to analyze given material or cases.

For students taking the graduation exam in 2022, there will be a comprehensive evaluation system to assess their morality, civic literacy, academic performance and artistic accomplishments, as well as their innovative and practical capabilities.

The high school admission policy will also be adjusted from 2022 to favor public schools that admit students without tests or interviews by increasing their admission quotas in the city’s top high schools. If private schools want the same treatment, they must give up the current practice of selecting students via interviews.

The change is expected to ease the craze for private schools and enhance fairness among public and private schools. Currently, public schools admit students according to locality while private schools interview students, a policy blamed for enabling them to pick the best students to the detriment of public schools.

Li Baiyan, principal of Shanghai Jianping Experimental Middle School, said the emphasis on all subjects would enrich students’ learning experience.

Learning style

She said the changes would also help cultivate students’ practical and innovative competence, bringing them more opportunities in the future.

Zhang Renli, principal of Shanghai Jing’an Education College Affiliated School, said the changes would help to transform students’ learning style and improve their cognitive, cooperative, innovative and professional capabilities, all key abilities for future success.

A father, surnamed Yang, of a boy who will graduate from middle school in 2022 said: “I think it’s good for students to learn more at a young age to explore their real interests, but I’m not sure how will they be implemented specifically.”

Fiona Xu, mother of a fifth-grade primary school student, said she welcomed the new policy. “The changes seem to bring more opportunities to students in public middle schools,” she said. “I think it will benefit my daughter as we plan to enroll her in a nearby public school.”

But she added: “She will have to take 15 tests, which seems too much for me. I’m afraid that will be a heavy burden for them to learn and do homework.”

However, Zhang said more courses did not necessarily mean a greater burden. “If the schools and parents follow the standard syllabus and do not push the students to learn advanced and difficult knowledge in advance, we can manage the burden,” he said.

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