Chinese school sets up 'marks bank' to reduce stress

This photo taken on 24 May 2016 shows senior high school students studying at night to prepare for the college entrance exams at a high school in Lianyungang, east China's Jiangsu province. Image copyright AFP
Image caption China's education system is still reliant on high-pressure examinations which require intense preparation

A Chinese high school has come up with an innovative way to help struggling students - a "marks bank".

The Nanjing Number One Secondary School has rolled out a scheme where student can "borrow" marks to top up low scores so they can pass their tests.

The school said it was aimed at reducing the stress of taking exams.

The scheme has become a talking point in China which has seen rising concern over an education system still reliant on high-pressure examinations.

'Credit scores' based on behaviour

According to media reports this week, the school introduced the scheme in November last year for 49 students in an elite programme aimed at grooming them for entry into US colleges.

They can "borrow" marks from the bank for certain subjects deemed to require more effort in studying, such as languages, biology, chemistry and history.

So far 13 students have taken part in the scheme.

They incur a debt when they "borrow" marks, and are expected to repay it with marks scored in subsequent tests.

To encourage students to improve in their subjects, they can be charged "interest" if they do not repay their loans quickly enough.

And just like in a real bank, the students will be given "credit scores", based on their behaviour records, school attendance and fulfilment of classroom cleaning duties.

Students can also be "blacklisted" from borrowing if they fail to repay their loans on time.

If teachers approve, they can even ask a classmate to pay their loans on their behalf.

"I missed some classes because I was sick, and I didn't do well in a geography test. But the 'marks bank' gave me a chance to save the situation," one student named Xiaozhu told Yangzi Evening Paper.

'Immense pressure'

The school did not immediately respond to the BBC's request for an interview.

But director Huang Kan said in interviews with Chinese media that the scheme was aimed at changing China's exam culture and "exploring a new evaluation system".

"In past exams, scores have become everything, and the pressure on students has become immense," she said.

"The purpose of an examination is to measure, give feedback, correct, and elevate standards - and not to make things difficult, punish or damage a student's enthusiasm."

She added that the scheme would encourage students to have "greater responsibility and a greater aptitude for learning".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Gaokao national university entrance exam is a matter of anxiety for both students and parents

China's education system has often been criticised as being too rigid and reliant on tests such as the infamously gruelling Gaokao national exam.

A 2014 study by a Beijing-based non-profit education group found that most cases of student suicides could be attributed to pressure from school tests.

The "marks bank" has generated intense interest in Chinese media and online.

While some believe it is a good move, others have questioned whether it may inadvertently send the wrong message to students.

"Exams may lose their rigour. If you don't do well in a test you can just take it again. But life often doesn't give you second chances," said one Weibo user.

Beijing News quoted an education expert as saying that the scheme was a "double-edged sword" as some students may take exams less seriously and end up developing "inertia".

But Ms Huang has defended the idea.

"The 'marks bank' is not a charitable institution aimed at giving out marks to lazy students, rather it is a nurturing cradle aimed at giving opportunities to diligent students," she told Xiandai Kuaibao.

Reporting by the BBC's Tessa Wong

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