BEIJING, May 17 (Xinhua) -- As this year's "Gaokao," China's highly competitive college entrance exam, looms, educationalists are weighing up reforms to the system.
The exam is of vital importance to millions of students and their families and multiple other stakeholders, said Tan Songhua, of the Ministry of Education educational development research center.
It is of the utmost importance that changes to the system are practiced in a prudent and steady manner and balance numerous conflicting interests, Tan added.
In an article published Tuesday, Tan said reform needs to bring a greater degree of professionalism to the student enrollment system, with staff trained in proper enrollment procedures and dispute resolution.
Coordination among the government, schools and society is necessary with the interests of people from different regions and ethnic groups satisfied.
The annual test takes place over two or three days and the scores are a major determinant of students' academic futures.
The exam has been criticized for overemphasis on grades and a forced division between science and liberal arts, with students obliged to choose one path or the other at an early stage.
In 2017, however, things will be different. Changes first proposed in September 2014 are due to be fully implemented by 2020, overhauling not only the exam itself, but also college enrollment.
Pilot regions Shanghai and Zhejiang will be the first areas to feel the effects of the new measures. Students that started senior high school in 2014, the year the reforms began, will sit their exams this year. The new process was officially defined by Shanghai government in March.
The reform balances the weighting assigned to schools and students in terms of preferred college placements. Before the change, students' choice of university was given top priority while their ideal majors were the secondary consideration.
Now, students have more choice in their applications and their preference of major is given equal consideration.
"It means students have more of a say in their future," said Zhou Hong, head of enrollment at NYU Shanghai. "Students have a better chance of securing a place on their preferred course and this puts them on track toward their academic dreams."
"It also means students must think more about their career path," he said.
Changes to the application system were triggered by changes to the exams. In Shanghai, for example, exams in sciences and liberal arts are no longer rigidly divided into two mutually exclusive sets.
Wu Jiang of Tongji University in Shanghai, said the change would put an end to the previous labels of "liberal arts students" and "science students."
"Our ideal students has knowledge of both," he said.
Zhou Aoying, vice president of East China Normal University (ECNU), agreed. "Students have more choice of major now as there are fewer limitations," he said.
The new system, however, is not without its opponents. Chen, a senior high school student from Hangzhou, is one of many perplexed by the changes.
It is too hard for a high schooler decide their future at this age, Chen's mother complained.
For educators, the reforms have raised the bar.
In his article, Tan said the reforms had already forced basic education, higher education and occupational education sectors to make changes.
"Colleges, middle schools and even primary schools should now help students explore where they want to head in the future," said Chen Jun, a high school principal in Shanghai.
Wu Zunmin, professor at ECNU, said that colleges should rise to the occasion. "Colleges need to now review their own enrollment systems in light of the Gaokao reforms."
His opinion was echoed by deputy head of Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences Hu Wei, stressing that colleges should offer better majors and improve the quality of education they offer.