An Analysis of the Chinese National Examination: The Politics of Curricular Change


Any assessment of recent educational change within the People's Republic of China (PRC) must take into account the swift and at times dialectical nature with which educational policies have been enacted. The range of policy shifts within the past 30 years, while paralleling to some extent, regime changes at the highest levels of leadership within the party and state bureaucracy, nonetheless is all the more remarkable given the immense size of the Chinese educational system. A total of 146.24 million children now enroll in formal primary schooling; 65.48 million enroll in a middle school program (Beijing Review, 1980). The initiation of a National Examination system in 1977, centralized in 1978, has had a marked effect in a direct-and in an indirect-manner on all participants within that system: teachers, administrators, parents, and students; today it is playing an extremely significant role in shaping the specific educational experience of urban students. Thus, an analysis of the nature of the examination process, the specific curricular content of the exam itself, and its impact upon policy changes within the PRC is both timely and relevant. While the 1978 National Examination has been translated into English by the Office of Education, and selected comparative observations concerning the curriculum content of the examination were solicited, a systematic evaluation of both the examination and its actual as well as potential educational impact was not attempted (Barendsen, 1978). This paper tries to rectify that omission by using the translated documents and accompanying scholarly analysis within the Office of Education document as a foundation for further inquiry. In doing so, it makes the major assumption that curricular change can have profound political and social consequences, and looks for specific instances which this document claim.



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