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It's exam season in China. Relax?

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The national college entrance exam is less than two weeks away, and 9 million Chinese high school students are freaking out.

That’s normal. But in a sign that Chinese educational habits are changing, teachers at some schools this year are trying to calm their students, instead of piling on the stress as they usually do.

The three-day “gaokao” exam is a make-or-break moment in every young Chinese citizen’s life. Really good marks open the doors to elite universities and a bright future. Average marks condemn you to a second-rate provincial college and poor job prospects.

Traditionally, teachers here have believed that stress brings out the best in a student. (My own son, sitting his exams next month to get into an English university, was criticized by his Chinese teacher on Monday for not being worried enough.)

But suddenly the Chinese press is full of stories of schools taking a more Western approach, and encouraging the kids to chill out.

In Yangzhou, near Shanghai, examinees are being made to take a break from their studies to stamp on balloons and fly paper planes. The No. 7 High School in Linyi, Shandong province, has called in a psychologist for consultations. A school in Beijing is telling its Year 13 students to go out and lie on the grass for a while. Others are organizing pillow fights or games of blind-man’s buff or limbo dancing competitions.


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