Ministry urges checks on past prize winners

National competitions for primary and secondary students put under scrutiny

The Ministry of Education has asked organizers of national competitions for primary and secondary students to double-check the authenticity and originality of past prize winners after a third-place finish by a sixth-grader at a national science competition for research on colorectal cancers caused public outcry after it was determined the boy’s project was the result of heavy involvement from his father.

National competitions should not far exceed students’ cognitive abilities, and parents and others should not participate in the competitions on behalf of the contestants, the ministry said in a notice on Monday.

The ministry will continue to strictly scrutinize national competitions, and organizers that are found to be seriously violating regulations will be removed from competition white lists and not be allowed to host competitions again, it said.

Further, competition results are not allowed to be used to decide student admission to primary and middle schools, nor should any entry tests be given to such students. Rather, admission should be solely based on the proximity of their homes to the schools, the notice said.

High schools should also not use the results of competitions as bonus points to count toward student admission, it said.

On July 1, the ministry published a white list featuring 35 approved national contests for primary and secondary school students for this year and next year.

The move aims to eliminate unregulated and exam-oriented competitions that have placed extra academic pressure on students.

A Grade 6 student surnamed Chen from Kunming, Yunnan province, was at the center of a recent controversy after his research paper won him third prize in the China Adolescents Science and Technology Innovation Contest. That same paper had netted him first prize at the provincial-level innovation contest in Yunnan.

The student claims he made use of gene-editing, animal models and clinical sample analysis to find a mutant gene, C10orf67, and analyzed its role in colorectal cancers. He claimed that just three days after he looked up the definition of “gene” on the internet, he was researching it.

An investigation by the organizing committee of the Yunnan competition found that “the research report has far exceeded the cognitive ability and writing skills of the student, and it is impossible for the student to have written the report by himself”.

The committee decided to revoke Chen’s first-prize award on Wednesday, and its counterpart from the national competition revoked his third-prize award on Thursday.

The student’s father, Chen Yongbin, a researcher at the Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, issued a statement on news website ScienceNet.cn on Wednesday saying that he had not fully understood the requirements of the competition, which stipulated that “the project report should be written by students themselves”, and that he was heavily involved in the writing of the research paper.

He said his son chose the research subject himself, and did the experiments and obtained research data under the guidance of schoolteachers as well as him and his wife.