Blast from the past: High school vice-principal sells useless cheating equipment, riot ensues

Originally posted Oct 24, 2013

This June, Malcolm Moore reported in The Telegraph on a riot that occurred at a high school in Zhongxiang, a city in central China’s Hubei Province, when school authorities cracked down on students attempting to cheat. Students at the No. 3 high school had been getting suspiciously high scores on the gaokao, China’s brutal national college entrance exam, so this year the school brought in a special team of proctors to relieve students of high-tech cheating gear. Pandemonium ensued:

For the students, and for their assembled parents waiting outside the school gates to pick them up afterwards, the new rules were an infringement too far. Outside, an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat. Read the rest of the article here.

According to Moore, groups of students hurled rocks at school offices, trapping proctors inside, some of whom sent out calls for help on the internet. One proctor, who had confiscated a students mobile phone, was punched in the nose by the students father.

The incident is shocking enough, but I thought it worth pointing out that there is another layer to this story, apparently unreported in the English-language media. According to this article by Ye Zhu Yi in the Shenzhen Shangbao (Business Newspaper) which a Chinese friend offered to translate for me a vice-principal of the school had actually sold wireless cheating devices to thirty students through a teacher who acted as a middleman. But the students were unable to use these devices during the gaokao, as the school set up signal jammers to prevent cheating. Following the exam, the thwarted students marched to the vice-principal (who, they knew, had supplied the cheating technology) to demand a refund. The vice-principal refused, so the students reported him to the police. The resulting investigation netted two groups of cheaters.

Even more amusing, the exam had to be called off and rescheduled because angry parents barged into the classroom, argued with proctors, and even tried to switch off the jamming devices while the exam was in progress.

Extreme cases like these highlight the massive problem of cheating in Chinese schools. But the official and public reactions to them also illustrate the fact that many Chinese are disgusted by cheaters and the conditions that enable them. For example, the above-quoted author goes on to argue that (roughly):

  • Cheating is out of control at many schools, rendering gaokao scores useless as measures of ability;
  • Cracking down on cheaters is all well and good, but is not enough;
  • The basic problem is that the gaokao has far too much importance in shaping a students future prospects, leading to crazed competition which gives rise to cheating;
  • So besides punishing cheaters, we also need to reduce the importance of the gaokao and reform the whole education system and the way that students are evaluated.

Sound advice, I think.

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