Forget Red Bull. Xiaogang No.1 High School uses intravenous drips to help energize its students.

“The state grants a 10-yuan subsidy for amino acids to each graduating senior that will participate in the gao kao (National College Entrance Exam). Any student that feels not well can go to the infirmary and take amino acids on the IV drip,” explained the Director of Office of Academic Affairs.

The IV drips became even more controversial when they were moved directly into the classroom to prevent any interruption in studying. School officials say they will continue to offer the injections, which are popular among students.

“I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all,” one student said. “Students preparing for the college entrance examination at our school began to take infusions of amino acids years ago and some of them took them more than twice.”

The exams are literally a matter of life and death for students. The National Higher Education Entrance Examination is a prerequisite for enrollment at the undergraduate level. The pressure to pass is contributing to China’s high rate of suicide, which is the leading cause of death among young adults.

China VS. USA

China is experiencing a meteoric rise in education, while U.S. test scores sink like a stone. The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tested 15-year-old students from 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Shanghai ranked 1st in reading, math, and science. The U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.

Singapore and Hong Kong recruit teachers from the top third of graduate schools. The U.S. recruits from the bottom third, according to the OECD.

“In the late 1990s we moved to all-graduate [teachers]. If we want to have high achievement, subject expertise is very important for secondary schools,” said Catherine K.K. Chan, deputy secretary for education in the Hong Kong government.

More than 80% of Shanghai secondary students attend after-school tutoring followed by three to four hours of homework each day.

Around 80% of Shanghai students (24% nationally) go on to college compared to 70% of U.S. students.