context: The 2013 third plenum of the 18th Party Congress decided that the core task of gaokao reform is ‘to separate the administrative authority of college admission and examination’; the 2014 State Council weighed in on admission policies and test arrangements. Initial pilots kicked off in Jiangsu and Shanghai in 2017, followed by a second batch in Beijing, Tianjing, Shandong and Hainan in 2018.

Among the third batch of 18 provinces designated to pilot the new ‘3+3’ gaokao scheme, less than half are on schedule (Jiangsu, Fujian, Liaoning, Guangdong, Hunan, Hubei, Hebei, Chongqing), reports Southern Weekly. The primary cause is inability to meet reform priorities due to lack of teaching resources, argues Han Ning 韩宁 National Education Examinations Authority Office of Evaluation director

  • timetabling
    • the ‘3 + 3’ scheme entails over 35 varieties of course combinations, yet even the best-established high schools can barely fit existing teaching staff and classrooms into the new requirements
  • burden of learning
    • pilot practices show that being able to take the tests multiple times increased exam prep workloads for students, teachers and parents
  • teaching order
    • allowing students to customise their courses requires a significantly higher student-faculty ratio to maintain school order and teaching quality
  • capacity of test designers
    • local examination authorities’ efforts to revise test content and test structure lag behind teaching experiments in high schools
  • learning outcome
    • customised course-taking disadvantages certain basic subjects that are difficult to learn (e.g. physics)
    • higher education institutes must adapt to new high school pedagogy

Due to these restrictions, many high schools piloting the new gaokao arrangements do not allow students to choose their elective courses or provide free time to take them. Instead, they provide an ‘abridged combination menu’ of courses for students to sign up for, says Xiong Bingqi 熊丙奇 21st Century Education Research Institute. There is no panacea for implementing gaokao reform, says Chen Baosheng 陈宝生 Minister of Education, suggesting local authorities act according to their capacity.