China’s education authorities announced today that they would push this year’s annual college entrance exam back by one month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two-day high-stakes test, commonly known as the gāokǎo (高考), has been rescheduled for July 7 and 8. Hubei Province, where the coronavirus first emerged last year, and Beijing, the capital, are being allowed to propose their own gaokao schedules depending on how the situation plays out in the next few months.
In a press conference held by the Ministry of Education (MoE) on March 31, Wáng Huī 王辉, a senior official with the MoE, said (in Chinese) that the decision was taken in a fashion intended to protect the 10.7 million exam takers this year, as well as to ensure the fairness of the test by allowing more preparation time for students whose studies had been seriously upended by the outbreak.
Since China resumed the gaokao in 1977 following the Cultural Revolution, this is the first time that the test has been delayed nationwide due to an emergency situation. In 2008, in the wake of the Wenchuan earthquake, around 120,000 students from six provinces hit hard by the disaster had to take the test about a month later than planned. When the SARS virus occurred in 2003, China had the outbreak fully under control in May, so the gaokao took place in June as scheduled.
In an interview (in Chinese) with the Southern Weekly, a MoE official explained that beyond the two days when the exam takes place, the gaokao involves a tremendous amount of complicated work that includes arranging test sites, training proctors, and the admission and enrollment process that ensues. “We are not operating a normal timetable this year and we are behind schedule. Even if we recruit a group of teachers now to design questions for the exam, it’s unlikely that the test will happen on time,” the official told the newspaper.
Commenting on the possibility of the exam being pushed back even further if the outbreak continues to rage on, the official noted that the ministry would try to prevent that from happening, considering the harmful impact of extreme summer heat on students’ performance and how the delay would affect universities’ plans for the fall semester.