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China's university students sometimes slack off

College student Xie Zhihui should be in class, but he hasn't been to class all semester. Instead, he spends an average of five hours a day playing video games on his laptop in his cramped dorm room at Hebei University of Science and Technology, a couple of hours outside Beijing.

Xie's bunk includes pin-up posters of basketball stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Tess Vigeland: We've been reporting this week on the gao kao, the national college entrance exam being taken this week by high school students across China.
The test will determine whether they get into college, what they'll study and pretty much shape the rest of their lives. But those who do get in to school have a tendency to stop doing something they've done for 13 straight years: study.

Marketplace's China Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz has the second of three reports.


Rob Schmitz: It's 10 in the morning. College student Xie Zhihui should be in class. But he hasn't been to class all semester. He's been too busy pretending to be a basketball star. Xie stares into his laptop, hair in his face, playing an NBA video game. His roommates squeeze by him, heading to the campus courts to play the real thing. They're skipping class, too. The six live in this musty room, the size of walk-in closet, at Hebei University of Science and Technology, near Beijing.

Xie Zhihui: I usually spend five hours a day playing video games. There's nothing else to do here. Everyone in my dorm is like this. We spend four years at university wasting time and after we graduate, we'll be facing unemployment.

After spending their childhoods studying for test after test in China's brutally competitive public school system, Xie and his classmates are burned out.

Jiang Xueqin: They're just drifting by...

Jiang Xueqin has been involved in China's education system for more than a decade; first as a journalist, now as an educator. Jiang says Xie and his friends are what he calls "typical college students" in China. Chinese colleges typically have low expectations. Once students choose their major, they can't change it. Xie, for example, majored in information management because, he says, "It sounded interesting." Jiang says none of this is good for Chinese companies looking for creative talent.

Student Xie Zhihui shares this room five other students. He says none of them attend class regularly. After 13
years of studying for test after test, many Chinese students are exhausted by the time they arrive to college.

Xueqin: Chinese schools aren't producing this talent. In fact, maybe they're taking some very creative people and making them uncreative. And so this has tremendous economic implications.

Jiang says for Chinese businesses, it begins the day you hire a college grad.

Xueqin: You basically have to teach them all over again. So you basically have to design your own education system, because the Chinese system failed these kids. The human costs are just tremendous.

Of course, China's a big place -- not all college grads are slouching video-game addicts. But for those who aren't, China's job market isn't inspiring: A quarter of last year's six million college grads have yet to find jobs.

In Hebei Province, I'm Rob Schmitz for Marketplace.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

Xie's bunk includes pin-up posters of basketball stars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

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