06/07/2005, 00.00
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Streets are closed and radios only whisper . . . it must be exam time in China

A four-day exam marathon begins today in China that will decide the fate of eight million students. In some places, traffic has been stopped; in others, students take oxygen supplements to manage stress.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese cities are diverting traffic, suspending construction and banning street hawking to reduce the stress on high school students as they begin gruelling national college entrance exams. For students and parents the four-day exam marathon is the key to a bright future . . . for the few who are able to pass.

The pressure has already proven too much for one 18-year-old student from the western province of Qinghai, who killed his mother over the weekend with a stone after they argued over his refusal to take the test.

"Passing the college entrance exams is the only way for Chinese youth to gain access to higher education," according to official news reports. "This year, a total of 8.67 million people have registered for the exams, but only one in every four test-takers will eventually be eligible for university enrolment."

Guangdong province in southern China ordered traffic away from 38 of the 54 exam sites and rerouted eight bus lines. It also banned construction activities and blaring radios from streets near schools to keep test rooms quiet.

Similar quiet zones have been set up around the country.

A Beijing neighbourhood was draped with red banners on Tuesday reading "build a quiet testing community". Elsewhere in the capital, parking areas reserved for students and their parents were set up.

In Foshan, students have taken to going to a local hospital to inhale pure oxygen to manage stress.

Schools are also concerned about cheating, a widespread practice with so much riding on the test. More than 3,000 exam takers across China were punished for "violating test discipline" last year.

Schools in Yingkou, in the north-eastern province of Liaoning, have installed electronic shielding devices to block mobile telephone signals. In recent years, scores of students have been found getting test answers sent as text messages to their mobile phones.

Students now have to sign "no-cheating" pledges before they are given their test booklets

In China, public schools have a near monopoly over higher education. Only in the last few years have public institutions been allowed but they still face social obstacles and bureaucratic red tape.

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