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22 Jul 2024 6:51
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  •   Home > News > Education

    Vocational school student stuns China by besting university competitors in maths test

    A 17-year-old vocational school student from rural China becomes a celebrity on social media after reaching the final round of a maths competition, beating many others from top universities and raising questions about the education system.

    A 17-year-old vocational school student from rural China has become a celebrity on social media after reaching the final round of a maths competition, beating many others from top universities and raising questions about the education system.

    Jiang Ping, who is studying fashion design, finished 12th in the Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition, one of 802 who made it to the final round — an eight-hour test that takes place on Saturday.

    A video that included an interview with Jiang got more than 800,000 likes and 90,000 comments after it was posted on social media by Damo Academy, the organiser of the contest.

    Most expressed their amazement, while some questioned if it was real.

    Ms Jiang, who couldn't be reached for comment, says in the video interview that she didn't think she deserved to join the competition, even though she enjoys working on advanced maths as it "brings out my desire to explore".

    "I accidentally saw the Alibaba global maths competition online," she said in the interview.

    "My maths teacher told me regardless of your profession, a delivery man or a doctor, can all participate.

    "I just want to give it a try, maybe it can be a chance to prove myself."

    The web-based competition welcomes maths enthusiasts from all walks of life to participate, with no entry bars. 

    Ms Jiang is the only vocational school student among all the finalists. 

    She is also the only girl in the top 30.

    The others, who are mostly Chinese, mainly come from top-tier universities such as Cambridge, MIT and Caltech, as well as China's top two, Tsinghua and Peking University. 

    Winners will be awarded $US2,000 ($3,000) to $US30,000($45,000) in prize money.

    Congratulations poured in. 

    People visited her parents' home in a village in Jiangsu province on China's east coast with alcohol and money to show support. 

    Her pictures were shown on the walls of shopping malls in her hometown, Lianshui. 

    Zhejiang University and Jiangsu University praised her on their Weibo accounts.

    Jiang's story sparks debate over education inequality in China

    While it was unclear how Ms Jiang ended up in vocational school, her story still reminded some in China of the inequality between rural and urban areas and how that can make it harder for even talented students to climb the economic ladder.

    "While Jiang Ping is openly celebrated, many Chinese feel deep down inside that her story highlights the hopelessness of Chinese education," said Jiang Xueqin, a China-based education researcher. 

    "The odds are fundamentally stacked against ordinary Chinese, without power, wealth, or 'guanxi' (the Chinese term for connections)."

    Inequality in education appears to have worsened in recent years. 

    Spending on education in rural areas was 17 per cent less than in cities in 2019 for the nine years of compulsory education in China. 

    It was only two per cent lower in 2013, based on calculations from data in a Peking University report on the urban-rural gap in per capita expenditure.

    Ministry of Education data show that 70 per cent of students in China's vocational schools are from rural areas.

    The high percentage suggests that the education system works like a caste system, the researcher said.

    The competition was started six years ago by Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant. 

    Jack Ma, then-executive chair of Alibaba Group, said the goal was to find students who enjoy maths and encourage and support them.

    Ms Jiang did well enough on the entrance exam to go to high school, the Communist Party secretary of her vocational school told state broadcaster CCTV.

    The secretary said she applied to the vocational school instead of a high school because her older sister and good friends were students there. 

    Other Chinese media said it was because she came from a poor family, and vocational school gave her a scholarship.

    Jiang says in the video interview that her plan is to get into a good university. 

    It's not impossible, though vocational school students only have access to certain institutions.



    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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