The national college entrance exams, which have attracted some 6.13 million applicants this year, got underway throughout the country in an orderly and cautious manner on Saturday.
In Beijing, one of the areas worst hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), over 80,000 exam takers assigned to 213 exam centers across the city entered the well-disinfected, spacious rooms after showing proof of identity and good health. All students had undergone temperature screening by infrared thermometers starting at 7:30 am.
To ensure the exams are carried out smoothly, exam centers are staffed with personnel providing services such as quarantine, medical care, public security and transportation, and emergency procedures are in place in the event that an applicant shows symptoms of SARS such as fever, said an official with the Beijing Educational Examinations Institute.
A total of 280 special buses were provided by the municipal Party committee to shuttle applicants to the exam centers free of charge.
In south China's Guangdong Province, where the first case of SARS was discovered, 336,000 applicants arrived at their designated centers. Sixteen exam rooms in six cities are also monitored through computer images.
In the exam room for Braille-based exams in Changning Neighborhood College in east China's Shanghai, nine blind but talented seniors were concentrating on the Chinese language exam during the morning. They will take the math, English (listening comprehension included) and history exams.
Taking blind people's special circumstance into consideration, the blind examinees are given half an hour more time in answering questions for each exam than normal students, said a local official who is put in charge of affairs related to blind applicants.
In northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, one of the few Chinese regions where no SARS cases have been found, 93,000 students, a record high, participated in the annual national college entrance exam at the region's 135 exam centers from 9:00 am, answering exam sheets in five languages including Chinese and Uygur for ethnic Uygur people in Xinjiang.
The national exams for college admission have traditionally been held every July, however, beginning this year, the exams willbe held in June to avoid the mid-summer heat.
Due to the outbreak of SARS, many middle schools across the country were closed in late April, and high school seniors were forced to prepare for the exams at home.
Many students seem to have learned a great deal from the unanticipated epidemic disease and have developed the ability to remain calm. Li Di, whose mother is a doctor working on the frontline against SARS, said his mother was simply performing her duty.
Li Lu, headmaster of the Beijing No. 65 Middle School, said he was relieved that SARS had taught his graduate students to be more considerate.
Moreover, both examinees and their parents have adopted a healthy attitude with regard to the national college entrance exam. The traditional phenomenon, which featured applicants taking tests inside classrooms while large crowds of relatives waited outside the school gates under the scorching heat did not occur this year.
Prior to the exam, parent and relatives were told not to accompany the applicants as a SARS precautionary measure, said Zhang Zhongyi, deputy headmaster of the NO.2 Railways Middle School of Guiyang City, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province. Guizhou is one of the fortunate sites which has escaped SARS.
Liu Ziling, mother of Gu Ling, an applicant from Guiyang No.6 Middle School, said she chose not to accompany her daughter outside her exam room. "Barring some type of special circumstances, accompanying the examinees is an example of over-protectionism in education which is completely unnecessary and sometimes counter-productive," said the mother.
SARS is the gravest challenge for China since 1978 when the country started to introduce the reform and opening-up drive, said Dr. Hu Angang with the Center for Research on China's Situation affiliated with the prestigious Tsinghua University.
But extensive preparations have been made across the country to ensure that the national college entrance exam proceeds as scheduled.
Zhang Qixiang, an editor with a newspaper published by the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) whose daughter also sat in Saturday's national college entrance exam, expressed confidence that, due to the experience gained from fighting SARS, younger generations would be more capable of handling difficulties and dealing with setbacks.