'PAR­ENT HOME­WORK'

Moms and dads of young chil­dren plead for less pres­sure from schools on home ed­u­ca­tion

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By He Keyao

It is 4 pm, and Zhao Xin, in her 30s, is stand­ing out­side her son’s pri­mary school wait­ing for him to get out of class. Her 6-yearold son is adapt­ing to school life and so is she,

since she has to help her son get through the all the home­work he has each night. Once school is over, Zhao’s work be­gins.

Af­ter re­turn­ing home, Zhao needs to guide him with his home­work, which in­cludes learn­ing Chi­nese char­ac­ters, read­ing text­books, prac­tic­ing English as well as solv­ing math prob­lems. The whole process of­ten takes sev­eral hours.

To make sure that ev­ery par­ent is do­ing their duty for home ed­u­ca­tion, the teacher re­quires them to make au­dio record­ings and take pic­tures with their chil­dren while help­ing them. The work­load will dou­ble or triple when it comes to as­sign­ments given by ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar English classes on week­ends when Zhao needs to help her son prac­tice for hours and fin­ish his home­work through a smart­phone app re­quired by the teach­ers.

“The whole thing con­sumes all my time and pa­tience. But it is good for the kids, so we don’t have any other op­tions,” said Zhao.

The voices call­ing out for less pres­sure for par­ents con­cern­ing home ed­u­ca­tion are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly louder. For par­ents of a pri­mary school stu­dent, help­ing with their child’s home­work is a norm. The trend is grow­ing so much that par­ents are now com­plet­ing more of the home­work than their chil­dren. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the China Youth Daily on Novem­ber 2, more than 80 per­cent of the 2,001 in­ter­vie­wees said they wit­ness or ex­pe­ri­ence the pres­sure of “par­ent home­work.” In ad­di­tion, more than 70 per­cent of them think the prac­tice trans­fers too much of the work the school should be do­ing to the par­ents.

Metropoli­tan spoke with teach­ers and par­ents about the heavy work­load and how it af­fects them and their chil­dren.

Trans­fer­ring teach­ing du­ties

“The thing is that par­ents are in a very vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion com­pared with schools,” said Cui, an en­gi­neer and fa­ther of two young kids in Bei­jing. “Changes should be made.”

Cui’s el­dest son just en­tered sec­ondary school two months ago, and Cui felt it was like a “prison break” to fi­nally put an end to six years spent at one of the top pri­mary schools in Haid­ian district, Bei­jing.

“Around 80 per­cent of the home­work, es­pe­cially for lower-grade stu­dents, needs to be done by par­ents. It’s not for kids at all,” Cui said, adding that the as­sign­ments given by teach­ers are be­yond the abil­ity of a young child, and that pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion has some­how be­come a com­pe­ti­tion of fam­i­lies’ ed­u­ca­tional and eco­nomic back­ground.

For ex­am­ple, the school re­quired stu­dents to do re­search projects and write re­ports and pa­pers in aca­demic for­mat and to make speeches and pre­sen­ta­tions us­ing Pow­er­Point when young chil­dren can barely use the com­puter. For­tu­nately, be­cause of their ed­u­ca­tional back­ground and over­seas aca­demic ex­pe­ri­ence, Cui and his wife man­aged to do their son’s home­work, spend­ing a ma­jor­ity of their spare time and count­less week­ends on home ed­u­ca­tion de­spite their heavy daily work­load. The process was tir­ing and point­less and things could be­come re­ally hard for par­ents who are too busy to help or have lim­ited aca­demic ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­cord­ing to Cui.

“Kids are too young for as­sign­ments like this, and they can learn lit­tle when their par­ents do the work for them,” said Cui.

More­over, the school stresses too much on “com­pre­hen­sive de­vel­op­ment” and fo­cuses on sports and art events more than ba­sic knowl­edge and text­book learn­ing, which pumps up the de­mand of ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar classes, putting more pres­sure on par­ents’ shoul­ders.

“They teach at a very quick pace at school to al­low more time for sports and art ac­tiv­i­ties, so par­ents need to ei­ther teach them at home or send them to ex­tra lessons so that their child can catch up,” Cui said. Help­ing out with their child’s learn­ing process is a daily rou­tine for many.

“Part of the teach­ers’ work now be­comes the par­ents’ work.” said Cui.

Kinder­garten to pri­mary school

In fact, the prac­tice of par­ent home­work starts in kinder­garten. Zhao feels that the hard­est home­work as­sign­ments were given when her son was younger.

“I still re­mem­ber the first ‘par­ent as­sign­ment’ was to make a toy steer­ing wheel with my son, and he was only three then,” Zhao searched ev­ery corner of their house for ma­te­ri­als and fi­nally made one from a pipe with the help of other fam­ily mem­bers. Her first at­tempt was graded as “un­qual­i­fied,” and Zhao had to buy toy ma­te­ri­als and do the home­work again.

In fact, many on­line posts went vi­ral re­cently jok­ing about “the weirdo home­work for kids,” which shows the com­pli­cated home­made projects chil­dren are re­quired to bring to school. Zhao said she be­lieves that those posts are true.

“The kids are too young to com­plete the work, and they learn noth­ing from it,” said Zhao.

For pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, she af­firmed that schools should not trans­fer their re­spon­si­bil­ity to the fam­ily, but the par­ents need to of­fer guid­ance to build up a good foun­da­tion for their kids.

She is not to­tally against par­ent home­work when the kids are young, and she also wants to help her son estab­lish good learn­ing habits dur­ing the first and sec­ond year of pri­mary school. How­ever, the kids need to learn to be more in­de­pen­dent as they get older, she said. “I won’t do as much as I do now when he gets into third grade. That’s the time he needs to de­pend on him­self,” Zhao said. How­ever, things are

much harder for

fam­i­lies where the grand­par­ents play the main role in home ed­u­ca­tion. In big ci­ties like Bei­jing and Shang­hai, it is quite com­mon that par­ents are too busy at work, and it is of­ten the grand­par­ents who take care of the young chil­dren. Help­ing with home­work is chal­leng­ing for the el­derly as many as­sign­ments need to be done on com­put­ers or var­i­ous smart­phone apps.

“I see some grand­moth­ers who are very up­set about their grand­chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion since they can do lit­tle to help with cer­tain sub­jects, say English,” Zhao said, adding that some el­derly in her com­mu­nity are try­ing hard to catch up with us­ing dig­i­tal de­vices to help the kids.

As par­ent home­work is draw­ing grow­ing crit­i­cism, many schol­ars and ed­u­ca­tors say that the prac­tice is not good for a child’s de­vel­op­ment. Ju Ping, a well­known chil­dren’s TV pro­gram pre­sen­ter and ed­u­ca­tor, is one of them.

“Too much at­ten­tion and help could re­sult in de­pen­dence on the par­ents,” said Ju in a pub­lic lec­ture on Novem­ber 4, stress­ing that home ed­u­ca­tion should fo­cus on ‘par­ent-kid’ com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ter­ac­tion, rather on help­ing out with as­sign­ments.

Re­cently, Jiangsu Prov­ince and Ningxia Hui Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion have pub­lished a new school rule that for­bids par­ent home­work and called for an end to the prac­tice of par­ents be­ing re­quired to mod­ify kids’ as­sign­ments and sign­ing up for their work. The move earned waves of likes on­line.

How­ever, Li Hongy­ing, a mother of a pri­mary stu­dent, said that the so-called “re­liev­ing pres­sure” move will not work in the long run.

“I think it is the whole so­cial at­mos­phere that pushes many par­ents into try­ing so hard on their child’s ed­u­ca­tion. The idea of not los­ing at the start­ing line will most likely not change,” Li said, stress­ing that it is not the schools to blame.

Par­ents’ own ini­tia­tive

How­ever, the bur­den of par­ent home­work is, to some ex­tent, self-gen­er­ated and the prac­tice might be mis­un­der­stood by many. Wang Jianan, a teacher at the Ex­per­i­men­tal School Af­fil­i­ated to Na­tional Academy of Ed­u­ca­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, stresses that the home­work is set up to be com­pleted by stu­dents, but par­ents are too ea­ger to help.

“All the home­work is ar­ranged within the cur­ricu­lum and it might be chal­leng­ing some­times, but it’s within stu­dents’ ca­pac­ity,” said Wang. For ex­am­ple, only se­nior stu­dents in pri­mary school will be asked to make Pow­er­Point pre­senta

tions, since they start to learn how to use a com­puter in the third grade. She added that teach­ers do not ask stu­dents to present “per­fect” work, but only en­cour­age them to try. How­ever, par­ents take the ini­tia­tive to do things for them in order to make their chil­dren’s work look bet­ter.

“The prac­tice is de­priv­ing kids of try­ing new things them­selves, and it’s not fair for other stu­dents who are with­out par­ents’ help. And as time passes by, more and more par­ents be­gin to join,” sighed Wang.

Flora Man, a pri­mary school teacher in Bei­jing, echoes Wang and stresses that “co­op­er­a­tion ed­u­ca­tion” be­tween par­ents and schools is a trend.

“On one hand, teacher hope to en­hance the teach­ing out­put by co­op­er­at­ing with par­ents; on the other hand, more and more par­ents are will­ing to take a big­ger part in their child’s lives, which can be in­creas­ingly re­flected in the child’s home­work,” said Man.

Ac­cord­ing to Man, many par­ents en­joy the time they spend do­ing projects with their kids. She cited an ex­am­ple where a stu­dent’s fa­ther, who has a doc­toral de­gree, helped his son with a project that needed to be com­pleted at home. To­gether they made a per­fect team, and both the fa­ther and son found the process en­joy­able.

“The more ed­u­cated the par­ents are, the more will­ing they are to join in on their child’s ed­u­ca­tion. The key is good com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween par­ents and teach­ers and not to make par­ents’ help com­pul­sory,” said Man.

Photo: Li Hao/GT

Par­ents and their chil­dren dur­ing the entrance exam of The El­e­men­tary School Af­fil­i­ated to Ren­min Univer­sity of China.

Li Hao/GT Page Edi­tor: Photo:

A pri­mary stu­dent and his mother com­pet­ing in a three-legged race at Hua­jiadi Pri­mary School.

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