Another week and another round of headlines about China’s hugely competitive school and university system.
Two stories, both about examination results, have captured the public mood as parents fret about the impact of the coronavirus on their children’s education.
The first involves Chen Chunxiu, a 36 year-old mother from Shandong province, who was deprived of a place at university 16 years ago because someone stole her identity.
Chen, who comes from a poor background, only discovered the identity theft in May when she applied for a course at an adult education centre. For the first time she was given access to all of her previous academic records.
To her shock she discovered she had done quite well in her high school exams and even been offered a place at Shandong University of Technology.
But another girl, whose father worked with the local government, then conspired to steal her academic records, going so far as to change her name so that it matched Chen’s.
The story stuck a nerve with people online who also claimed to have friends or relatives who had suffered from a similar experience.
An investigation by Shandong’s educational authorities – carried out in response to Chen’s complaint – revealed that a further 242 students may have been deprived of places due to similar scams between 2000 and 2009.
“The usurper used a despicable method to steal another girl’s college dream and made this poor rural girl miss out on a valuable opportunity,” state news agency Xinhua commented.
Instead of going to university, Chen became a waitress and factory worker, all the while trying to further her qualifications by taking classes at night school.
The woman who stole her place went on to get a government job, despite scoring almost 250 points fewer than Chen in her gaokao (college entrance exam).
The woman’s immediate family is claiming that it had nothing to do with the switch, which was arranged and paid for by an elderly aunt, who is now dead.
The woman has been suspended from her job, while the Shandong government works out how to compensate Chen.
And in another scandal getting the attention of parents of school-going kids this week, a woman took to weibo to complain that her boss had to pay for a service on a smartphone app if he wanted to access his daughter’s exam results.
Details of the case are scarce because the original post has been removed from social media. But it still became a hot topic because other parents have been complaining about problems with schools trying to charge them to download similar test result apps.
These apps started to appear after the Ministry of Education banned the publishing of test rankings – or public records of how children had performed in exams compared to their peers.
Administrators said that stopping these lists was a way of reducing pressure on students (for more on this theme, see WiC401). But many schools then switched to a system in which parents could access their child’s individual scores only by downloading an app in which the teacher records their grades, with associated comments about their performance.
The cost to access these apps can vary from Rmb170 to Rmb350 ($49) a year.
It’s another instance where a change in regulation has created a grey area – one that smartphone technology has turned into a monetary opportunity. “This needs investigating. It can’t be legal,” said one furious weibo user.
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