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June 4th, 2008
China Prep
Chinese Students Return to School at Earthquake's Epicenter

The first students returned to school in Wenchuan, China, the epicenter of last month’s devastating earthquake, which killed nearly 70,000 people.

Many of the dead were schoolchildren who were crushed when poorly constructed school buildings collapsed in the quake. In Wenchuan alone, 347 students and 28 teachers were killed.

The 500 students and teachers from Weizhou Middle School moved into a mobile school on Monday. In China, middle school is the last stage before college or university, so the 300 of those students who are around the age of 18 will be preparing for the national college entrance exam scheduled to take place this weekend.

Known as the gaokao, or “tall test,” the exam is an intensely stressful milestone for any Chinese teenager, and this year, students will have to study with the trauma of last month’s earthquake still fresh in their minds.

The stakes are high — college admission in China is based solely on one’s test score, and last year, nearly 10 million students competed for only 5.7 million university placements. For students from impoverished rural areas like Wenchuan, success at the gaokao is often seen as the only path out of poverty.

This summer, WIDE ANGLE takes us to China, to see how students cope with the pressure of the one exam that determines their fate — and makes the American SAT look like child’s play.

China Prep premieres on August 12. Check your local listings for airtimes, and check back here for updates.

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