Pub­lic opin­ion key to solve ed­u­ca­tional prob­lems

China Daily (USA) - - VIEW -

The ed­u­ca­tion author­i­ties in Chang­sha, Cen­tral China’sHu­nan prov­ince, have de­cided to start lo­cal pri­mary schools from 8:30 am in­stead of 8 amto en­sure stu­dents get 10 hours of sleep. The de­ci­sion was wel­comed by many par­ents be­cause it is aimed at im­prov­ing chil­dren’s health. In an on­line sur­vey con­ducted by China Youth Daily, only 9.5 per­cent of the 2,005 re­spon­dents dis­agreed with the de­ci­sion.

Dif­fer­ent from some other lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion author­i­ties that tried to change school timings but failed to do so be­cause of par­ents’ op­po­si­tion, the Chang­sha ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials held a pub­lic hear­ing be­fore mak­ing the de­ci­sion. This shows we have to es­tab­lish a more open de­ci­sion­mak­ing mech­a­nisms to solve ed­u­ca­tional prob­lems, be­cause ar­bi­trary de­ci­sions could face pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

Start­ing schools later than usual will ease stu­dents’ aca­demic bur­den and en­sure they get enough sleep. But it could also cre­ate prob­lems for par­ents. Fam­i­lies in dif­fer­ent cities and re­gions may have dif­fer­ent views on the is­sue, so ed­u­ca­tion author­i­ties should not make ar­bi­trary de­ci­sions. Many par­ents are op­posed to such a move be­cause it would be dif­fi­cult for them to ar­range their work.

We can­not ex­pect all stake­hold­ers to agree to a de­ci­sion, but as the on­line sur­vey in Chang­sha shows, if the ma­jor­ity sup­ports the de­ci­sion, it can be more eas­ily im­ple­mented. With­out hold­ing a pub­lic hear­ing or con­duct­ing an opin­ion poll, it will be dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment poli­cies or win pub­lic sup­port.

Ar­bi­trary ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ci­sions have fre­quently ex­posed the loop­holes in school man­age­ments. For in­stance, in 2011 Ts­inghua Univer­sity ac­cepted a do­na­tion from ap­parel maker Jean­west in ex­change for nam­ing one of its teach­ing build­ings after the com­pany with­out seek­ing the opin­ions of teach­ers and stu­dents. Even­tu­ally the univer­sity had to change its de­ci­sion after some teach­ers and stu­dents op­posed the move.

For­eign uni­ver­si­ties have spe­cific pro­ce­dures for ac­cept­ing do­na­tion. Do­na­tion-re­lated is­sues are dis­cussed openly, and teach­ers’ and stu­dents’ opin­ions are sought be­fore the univer­sity board makes a fi­nal de­ci­sion. So long as the de­ci­sion is based on the sup­port of the ma­jor­ity of stake­hold­ers, it can be im­ple­mented with­out much op­po­si­tion.

The Chang­sha ed­u­ca­tion author­i­ties have set a good ex­am­ple by mak­ing a de­ci­sion after seek­ing the opin­ions of the stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the par­ents of chil­dren. But author­i­ties in other cities and re­gions have to en­sure that par­ents from dif­fer­ent ar­eas at­tend such hear­ings be­fore mak­ing such a de­ci­sion, be­cause traf­fic con­di­tions vary from place to place, as do the work sched­ules of par­ents.

Be­sides, the change in the school hours will not come as a big re­lief for stu­dents, be­cause the main rea­son for their heavy aca­demic bur­den is the un­bal­anced dis­tri­bu­tion of ed­u­ca­tional re­sources.

China has is­sued the draft of its na­tional ed­u­ca­tion plan, which high­lights the need for a sci­en­tific de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­ce­dure and lis­ten­ing to pub­lic opin­ion for de­vel­op­ing a mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

But an open ed­u­ca­tion man­age­ment sys­tem is needed to en­sure sci­en­tific, rea­son­able and bal­anced dis­tri­bu­tion of ed­u­ca­tional re­sources, and only then can stu­dents’ aca­demic bur­den be truly eased.

The au­thor is deputy di­rec­tor of the 21st Cen­tury Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search In­sti­tute.

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