Winter Break Nearing, China Targets Illegal Student Competitions
With school winter vacations around the corner, China’s Ministry of Education issued a notice Thursday to address illegal competitions targeting students. The announcement clarified that results from “unauthorized” competitions are prohibited from being used for preferential treatment or additional points in primary and secondary school admissions.
Authorities also warned companies and individuals against promoting claims that winning a competition “boosts admission chances,” labeling such actions as significant legal violations. They specifically labeled three Olympiad math competitions — Master Competition, Hope Cup, and China Cup — as illegal.
Despite regulations, such competitions, often held during the winter break, remain popular among parents across the country, who sign their children up in a bid to boost their academic profiles.
In recent years, efforts to reduce the emphasis on competitive achievements in school admissions have intensified, with cities like Hangzhou, in the eastern Zhejiang province, and Shanghai revising their policies to focus more on overall student abilities rather than competition results.
As the government continues to emphasize overall development in evaluating students’ abilities, many parents still believe success in various competitions is a strong indicator of competence.
For example, in the gaokao, China’s university entrance exam, students who win silver medals or higher in the five basic disciplines of the Olympiad Competition — mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and information technology — are eligible for preferential admission. This grants them more direct access to 39 top universities, including Peking University and Tsinghua University.
In 2018, the Ministry of Education banned extracurricular training institutions from organizing competitions for primary and secondary students. By 2020, the “special talent students” examination for primary and secondary schools was abolished.
Yet, despite these efforts, many parents continue to enroll their children in various competitions to bolster their admission portfolios, indicating that such competitions continue to thrive.
For the companies organizing them, however, these competitions also prove lucrative. In 2022, the Beijing News reported that the “Ying Chun Cup,” a mathematics competition in Beijing generated nearly 10 million yuan ($1.4 million) for the organizers through an associated study camp.
In 2022, the Ministry of Education announced that only 44 national competitions for primary and secondary school students were sanctioned by authorities. These competitions are restricted to no more than once per academic year, with a maximum of three events between 2022 and 2025.
The approved competitions are categorized into natural science, humanities, and art and sports, with national science competitions making up half of the list. In recent years, an increasing number of contests related to artificial intelligence have emerged.
(Header image: Parents at a math competition in a school in Chengdu, Sichuan province, June 10, 2016. VCG)