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China Bans Exams For Six-Year-Olds As Beijing Retools Education System

Beijing on Monday banned written exams for six- and seven-year-olds, as part of sweeping education reforms aimed at relieving pressure on pupils and parents in China’s hyper-competitive school system.

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China’s exam-oriented system previously required students to take exams from first grade onwards, culminating in the feared university entrance exam at age 18 known as the gaokao, where a single score can determine a child’s life trajectory.

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“Too frequent exams … which cause students to be overburdened and under huge exam pressure,” have been axed by the Ministry of Education, according to new guidelines released Monday.

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The ministry said the pressure on pupils from a young age “harms their mental and physical health.”

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The regulations also limit exams in other years of compulsory education to once a term, with mid-term and mock examinations allowed in junior high school.

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The measures are part of wider government reforms of China’s education sector, which include a crackdown on cram schools — seen by parents as a way to inflate their children’s educational fortunes.

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In late July, China ordered all private tutoring firms to turn non-profit, and barred tutoring agencies from giving lessons in core subjects at weekends and holidays, effectively crippling a $100 billion sector.

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The aim is to reduce China’s education inequality, where some middle-class parents willingly fork out 100,000 yuan ($15,400) or more per year on private tutoring to get their children into top schools.

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Many also snag property in schools’ catchment areas, driving up house prices.

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“There is no other country that has such a strong tutoring culture (as China),” said Claudia Wang, partner and Asia education lead at Shanghai-based consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

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With population growth at its slowest in decades, Chinese authorities lifted a two-child birth limit earlier this year and wish to increase incentives for parents to have more children.

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Beijing city authorities last week announced that teachers must rotate schools every six years, to prevent a concentration of top talent at some schools. Education officials on Monday reiterated a ban on schools setting up “priority” classes for gifted students.

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The Ministry of Education also banned written homework for first- and second-graders earlier this year, and limited homework for junior high students to no more than 1.5 hours per night.

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However, many Chinese parents still regard education as a path to social mobility.

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The gaokao is one of the few ways that poor, rural students can access better educational opportunities and job prospects at top universities.

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