Teachers Loan Students Points to Pass Exams
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2017-01-12 08:34:26

Students at a school in Nanjing need no longer fear the shame of failing their exams, now that their teachers will lend them the points they need to get passing grades — provided they pay back their loans when it comes time for the next test, of course.

Huang Kan, the architect behind the points-loan system, is department head of the international division at Nanjing No. 1 Middle School, a leading public high school in the eastern province of Jiangsu. She said the policy was designed as a motivational tool to encourage stressed-out students not to become disheartened by the occasional low exam score, and to study harder for the next one.

Since the system was introduced in November 2016, 11 of Huang’s 49 students have borrowed points to increase their scores. The international department runs courses for students hoping to attend university abroad, and Huang’s scheme had its test run during the winter semester’s midterm exams. With the next round of tests, these 11 pupils will need to score high enough to pay back their loans and still finish higher than the pass mark of 60.

The six subjects that allow students to rent points include some of the school’s more challenging classes, such as physics, geology, and biology. However, other core subjects such as English and mathematics are not eligible for the points-loan system as students' scores in these subjects relate directly to the admissions policies of American and Canadian universities.

“The policy was created for students who work hard but still find it difficult to pass exams,” Huang said, who shared the students' stories with Sixth Tone via email. “In the past, students who scored just below 60 on their initial exams became discouraged and were less likely to study hard going forward. We value students’ problem-solving skills and their attitudes toward their studies, and that is why we are encouraging them in this way.”

Shi Xingyan is in her first semester at the school and has already borrowed 12 points, which she used toward a geology exam on which she scored just 48. She will now need to score at least 72 on the next exam to pay off the sizable loan.

“I will repay my debt by steadily raising my performance on the exams,” Shi wrote in her “debtor’s note” — a requirement of all indentured students. “I will treasure this precious chance and focus on my learning.”

“I really appreciate this opportunity,” wrote Zhu Weijie, a student who borrowed six points for her own geology exam. “The teacher gave us a chance to pass, and I’m giving myself a chance to make up for my poor performance, to stop dwelling on the past and start thinking about how to work harder in the future.”

According to Huang, different teachers have the right to set different rules for the points-loan system as they see fit. Physics teacher Yu Hongmei, for example, allows students to repay the loans by answering questions correctly in class. Biology teacher Ma Haining, however, has stricter terms: For each point borrowed, her students must pay back two on the next exam.

Huang has also established a credit evaluation system for her international division students. Those who violate school rules — such as bringing mobile phones to class, being late more than five times in a semester, or shirking classroom cleaning duties — will not be eligible to borrow points.

So far, Chinese netizens have responded to the innovative policy in a variety of ways. “As a student, I feel really depressed when I am just a few points away from passing the exam,” wrote one young Weibo user. “I think the policy is great, especially because there is an ‘interest rate’ and a limit on who can borrow.”

“How high you can score represents how good you are — if you score one point less than someone else, it means you are not as good,” commented a more cynical Weibo user. “Who are you trying to fool by borrowing points?”

Huang, the department head, said she decided to try the policy after being inspired by how banks lend money to small businesses hoping to cover their startup costs. “We have to change the current mindset of make-or-break exams,” Huang said. “I am also considering expanding the policy to new classes like politics and art history.”

Nanjing No. 1 Middle School will have its final exams this week. “We’ll soon find out whether the students who borrowed points will actually be able to pay off their loans,” Huang said.

Additional reporting by Yin Yijun.

(Header image: Students study for an exam in a high school classroom in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, May 23, 2014. VCG)