A work staff member at the meteorological department of Hengshui, north China's Hebei Province, explains meteorological knowledge to local middle school students on March 23 (XINHUA)
When the school day finishes at 4 p.m., Liu Xiao goes home for dinner, but his studies are far from over. After dinner, the 14-year-old middle school student in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, goes to his desk and begins his homework. His mother, 38-year-old Zhang Yanjun, watches him as he does his assignments which can sometimes go past 10 p.m. This is very common among Chinese families with children, especially primary and secondary school-aged students.
According to data released at the end of 2017 by Afanti, a Chinese educational technology company, from 2015 to 2017, primary and secondary school students in China spent 2.82 hours finishing homework every night on average, which is about three times the global average. The data also showed that 80 percent of primary school students and 90 percent of secondary school students did not go to bed by 10 p.m. due to their heavy workload.
Too much homework is overwhelming not only for children, but for their parents. In another Afanti report, 91.2 percent of Chinese parents have the experience of watching their children do their homework, and 78 percent of parents do it every night. Parents and children have conflicts over issues related to homework in 75.79 percent of surveyed households.
"Watching and ensuring my son finishes his homework gives me a headache," Zhang told Beijing Review. "He can hardly concentrate as he completes his homework, which is often quite heavy for both him and me, and we can easily upset each other during the process."
Less homework, more sleep
Alleviating study burdens on students has been a hotspot issue attracting public concern and the government's attention. As early as 1955, the Ministry of Education issued the very first stipulation on reducing the study load for primary and secondary school students. Since then, eight national and more than 100 local regulations have been introduced, targeting many key problems, such as an excessive number of exams and competitions and an inordinate emphasis on students' grades.
As one solution, cities have begun to adopt policies where instead of competing for well-reputed schools with grades as the sole criterion, students are dispatched to the next level of schooling in their neighborhoods without having to sit for entrance exams. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, by February 2017, 90 percent of public primary and middle schools had enacted this policy in 19 major cities.
Local governments and schools have also developed practices to stop homework assignments from depriving children of enjoying leisure and rest time. For example, in early March, Anqing in east China's Anhui Province ruled that there should be no written assignments for primary school students in their first two years. The education authority in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, also passed similar policies, adding that primary school students can refuse to continue doing homework if they cannot finish by 9 p.m., and middle school students by 10 p.m.
Guo Haiying, President of Tianhe District Xian Village Primary School in Guangzhou, capital city of south China's Guangdong Province, said that his school requires teachers from different disciplines to coordinate with each other to make sure students take less than one hour of assignments home with them every day.
"It may take some students longer to finish than others, but we recommend parents let their children rest if they cannot finish homework by 9:30 p.m., and then later check with their teachers to see where the problem is," Guo told Ecns.cn.
Students hold textbooks for a new semester at Yangming Central Primary School in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province, on February 25(XINHUA)
Addressing cram schools
Besides reducing homework for students, regulating cram schools has also been a priority for the government. A number of these schools lack qualified teachers and premium teaching content. But with their colorful advertisement fliers and exaggerated or even false information about how they can improve students' grades, parents can easily fall into their traps.
According to a report released by the Chinese Society of Education at the end of 2016, among approximately 200 million primary and secondary school students, some 137 million had attended extracurricular classes, and in large cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, 70 percent of students had attended these classes.
The report said one of the reasons for the popularity of extracurricular classes is that they tend to teach students in accordance with their aptitude compared to public schools. It also said that tutorial classes are usually more lively and fun than regular ones in public schools.
But peer pressure, among students as well as parents, also plays a role. "How can I just let it go when most of my son's classmates attend such after-school classes? I don't want him to fall behind," Liu's mother, Zhang, said, despite the fact that her son's grades rank in the top 10 of his class.
"Parents should get rid of the herd mentality," said Wang Guoqing, spokesperson for the First Session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body, at a press conference on March 2. He said the government needs to adopt a systematic and comprehensive reform, while parents, schools and the entire society need to make joint efforts to create a sound studying and teaching environment. "We should help students form sound rest-and-study routines and highly efficient study habits," Wang said.
Easing study burden
Chen Baosheng, Minister of Education, said at a press conference on the sidelines of the First Session of the 13th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in Beijing on March 16 that China should move faster to address the "burden" of both students and teachers.
"But first we should be clear about what we mean by 'burden.' It means the part that is redundant and not in the school syllabus, whereas content that is required in the syllabus is not a burden, and students should work hard on them," Chen said.
Xiao Su, a high school English teacher in Beijing, agrees with this definition. "It's reasonable for students who have difficulty catching up with school classes to have tutoring courses," she told Beijing Review. "But it's unnecessary to take classes that have content before and beyond the school teaching syllabus so as to gain an upper hand."
In February, China published a notice on slashing the heavy schooling and extracurricular burdens on primary and secondary school students.
Tutoring schools will be authorized by local educational bodies before being given a license. Information such as the number of classes, teaching content, prospective students and class schedules will be reviewed and put on record before being made public.
"Children are the future and hope of our country. We shouldn't let them shoulder heavy burdens when they are supposed to be studying and growing happily and healthily," Wang said.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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