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Top secret exams

Beijing Evening News
June 4, 2008

It's long been a violation of state secrecy laws to leak questions from the annual college entrance exams (the gaokao) prior to the date of the test. In years past, the sealed test packet was rated "top secret" (绝密), the highest of three loosely-defined grades, above "secret" (机密) and "confidential" (秘密). This year, the authorities are getting even tougher on cheating.

Atop a photo of US astronaut Michael Fossum installing a new lab module on the International Space Station, the lead headline in today's Beijing Evening News announces that the gaokao test papers themselves are now "top secret" from the time the seal is broken on the packet until the exam is complete.

The upgraded designation means that anyone who leaks test questions while the gaokao is in progress will face a much harsher punishment this year than in the past. The newspaper notes that last year, Beijing found 1,700 posts online hawking services and gadgets to facilitate cheating on the exam.

This year's gaokao takes place on the 7th and 8th of this month; results will be available online on the 28th (link).

The lead editorial in today's paper is also education-related: Su Wenyang writes about education reforms in Kunming that will change how primary school principals are selected:*

Kunming's Education Reforms are Immensely Significant

by Su Wenyang / BEN

Cai Jie, head of the Kunming Municipal Education Bureau, announced on 28 May that once the plan for reforming preschool education had been finalized, a new round of primary and secondary school reforms would commence. Those reforms would mean that primary and secondary school principals would no longer be appointed by higher authorities, but would be elected by faculty, students, their parents, and society at large. At the same time, the principals' administrative rank would be eliminated. Reforming the way personnel is handled will change the relationship between educators and schools to that of employer and employee, who will sign a bilateral contract on a voluntary basis.

Reportedly, competitive elections for principals will be carried out and will involve at least two candidates. Principals will serve terms of three years after which they may be re-elected. The plan also has rules for supervising, interrogating, and dismissing principals, conducting by-elections, and methods for appointments and resignations. If ten (or 10%) or more of a school's faculty sign a joint letter, the upper-level administrative department may issue a written recommendation that the principal be questioned. If more than 30% of the faculty sign a letter, the upper-level administrative department may give a written recommendation to the school's faculty congress that the principal be dismissed.

Evidently democracy, that wonderful thing, will first be put into practice in Kunming. Some experts have proposed the concept of "incremental democracy"; the democracy in Kunming's education reforms is indeed a substantial increase. China's roadmap for democracy should proceed from inside out and from bottom to top: on the one hand, the democratic rights of party members within the party itself should be expanded, while on the other, grass-roots democracy should be launched for nominating and electing officials, thus expanding the right of the public to participate, be informed, supervise, and make decisions.

Kunming's educational reforms take a large step toward democracy, and this is immensely significant. Principals will no longer be appointed by government departments and will no longer have an administrative position — just these two measures represent a historic transition in which school principals shift their attention from their position to their occupation. It is plain to see that public nomination and public elections whereby teachers select a principal they trust will completely transform the old one-way responsibility system in which only the lower levels were responsible to their superiors. Elected principals will be made responsible to the faculty and the entire student body, and in addition, by carrying out their duties they will increase the enthusiasm of the teachers. The principal is now their own choice, so poor performance is simply undermining their own interests. Teachers have no way to replace an incompetent principal appointed from on high; this affects morale, and the ultimate losers are the students and the entire school.

Today, the same goes for university presidents as for primary and secondary school principals. A president is seen as occupying a position, not engaged in an occupation, and there are far too many administrative ranks, with ministerial-level presidents, bureau-level presidents, division-level presidents, and section-level presidents all over the place. And it's not just the world of education — business, too, has things like ministerial-level CEOs and presidents, bureau level CEOs and general managers, and below them, division- and section-level and so forth. Few places in the world do things like this; we copied it from "big brother USSR," but they've probably long since abandoned it. We're the only ones still clutching on to it.

This year marks thirty years since the economic reforms started, and everyone is talking about liberated thinking. Back and forth they talk: if not looking back on history, then explicating its meaning. Few people approach real issues. They don't mention what sort of thinking is liberated, or whose thinking will be liberated — it's all directionless. Empty talk of liberated thinking is itself a sign of thinking that has yet to be liberated. We should not turn "liberated thinking" into an empty phrase; rather, we ought to think about liberation in regard to each and every problem. The content of each point of Kunming's education reforms reflects the liberated thinking of Kunming's leaders. Though they haven't spoken of it in works, their actions demonstrate that this is liberated thinking. I ask you: isn't putting a competitive election into practice an example of liberated thinking? Isn't a public election for a school principal an example of liberated thinking? Isn't eliminating administrative titles for school principals an example of liberated thinking? From the Kunming education reforms we can get a taste of the great changes that liberated thinking can bring.

There are currently 3 Comments for Top secret exams.

Comments on Top secret exams

elsewhere, other nations and their colleges are moving *away* from high-stakes testing in the college admissions process, moving gradually towards a holistic assessment of applicant aptitude and potential.

Did you reverse "confidential" and "secret" as translations?

Weidan: 秘密 is usually translated as "secret" in other contexts, but grades of confidentiality in English are typically "confidential," "secret," and "top secret," which correspond to the Chinese 秘密, 机密, and 绝密.

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