China’s top education authority has released a new course standard for high schools as part of continued efforts to reel in the national culture of score-chasing.
The new standard, released by the Ministry of Education last month, will affect curriculum design and come into effect this fall. Compared with the current standard, which was released in 2003, it will give students more flexibility and choice — while also putting greater emphasis on traditional culture and the Communist Party.
“High school isn’t just for students who want to pursue higher education,” Wang Zhan, one of the experts behind the new standard, said at a ministry press conference on Tuesday. “More fundamentally, it lays the basis for improving the nation’s overall quality.”
Every subject will now be split into three levels, each catering to students with different goals in life. For example, for a subject like Chinese, students who just want to graduate from high school need only complete first-level units; those who want to pursue tertiary education must take the second-level course; and the most advanced level allows students to further their study for their own interests.
The new standard also adds German, French, and Spanish as recommended foreign language offerings, in addition to the existing options of English, Japanese, and Russian.
The change comes in the context of ongoing reforms to the grueling gaokao, China’s high-stakes, notoriously stressful college entrance exams. Since 2014, a pilot program across several regions — including Shanghai and Zhejiang province, both in eastern China — has offered high school students more exam subject choices and a more flexible schedule, including the option of taking several smaller exams.
Despite good intentions, the reforms have run into several hurdles. In October 2016, the Zhejiang provincial education bureau criticized some schools for reducing their offerings of subjects that did not appear on the gaokao. In previous interviews, Zhejiang students told Sixth Tone that the reforms only added to the pressure, as teachers tried to cram more knowledge into a shorter time frame in order to keep up with the new schedule.
In a commentary for Beijing Youth Daily, Xiong Bingqi, vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute think tank in Beijing, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of these measures in creating more holistic education, as schools still see their college acceptance rates as a key measure of success. Some schools would simply focus on subjects tested by universities in independent recruitment exams, Xiong wrote, while most would still prioritize gaokao subjects.
The new standard also calls for more content relating to Chinese culture and the revolutionary tradition. According to the ministry, such content should be integrated into every aspect of Chinese language study. Students will be required to recite 72 excerpts from ancient Chinese texts, an increase from 14 pieces in the past, as well as articles by revolutionaries like Mao Zedong, to “strengthen cultural confidence and implant the so-called red gene.”
The ministry has already developed more patriotic textbooks for compulsory subjects in primary and middle schools, and in January, Jiangxi province announced that it would introduce a set of revolutionary culture textbooks for students from preschool through to university.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: Students attend class at a high school in Weifang, Shandong province, May 6, 2013. VCG)