Lighter study bur­den rule: Is it work­ing?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By ZOU SHUO [email protected]­

Many Chi­nese par­ents have mixed feel­ings about the gov­ern­ment’s lat­est move to lighten the school­work bur­den on pri­mary and mid­dle school stu­dents.

While some par­ents think the move to re­duce the study bur­den might free their chil­dren from the pres­sure of a pile of pa­pers and text­books and let them en­joy child­hood, oth­ers worry that when pub­lic schools re­duce the num­ber of home­work as­sign­ments, make tests eas­ier and down­grade the im­por­tance of scores, it is the par­ents who must step into the vac­uum to pro­vide their chil­dren with more ex­tracur­ric­u­lar learn­ing to help them stand out from their peers and even­tu­ally gain ad­mis­sion to a good univer­sity.

The gov­ern­ment’s “aca­demic bur­den re­duc­tion” poli­cies have been around for decades, but re­cently re-en­tered main­stream pub­lic de­bate. That was prompted by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and eight other de­part­ments is­su­ing a guide­line on Dec 28 con­tain­ing 30 de­tailed mea­sures not only for schools but for after-school train­ing in­sti­tu­tions, par­ents and ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties — all aim­ing to re­duce stu­dents’ aca­demic bur­den.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is­sued its first guide­line on re­duc­ing stu­dents’ aca­demic pres­sure in 1955. A more re­cent guide­line, is­sued by the min­istry in 2013, mainly fo­cused on schools, in­clud­ing for­bid­ding pri­mary schools from set­ting up key classes based on stu­dents’ scores and for­bid­ding mid­dle schools from hav­ing en­roll­ment tests.

The new guide­line for­bids af­ter­school train­ing in­sti­tu­tions from en­gag­ing in exam-ori­ented train­ing or hir­ing teach­ers from pub­lic schools.

It also for­bids ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties from eval­u­at­ing schools on the ba­sis of their stu­dents’ en­roll­ment rates in top high schools and stresses the need to re­form the high school and col­lege en­trance exam sys­tems, which eval­u­ate schools solely on test scores. Par­ents should form sci­en­tific par­ent­ing con­cepts and re­frain from com­pet­ing with oth­ers, it said.

Cui Shifeng, prin­ci­pal at He­fei Hupo Mingcheng Pri­mary School in An­hui prov­ince, said that al­though the ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties had been dis­cussing ways to re­duce the bur­den on chil­dren since 1955, pupils’ work­loads had, iron­i­cally, in­creased over the years.

The root cause for that is the un­bal­anced dis­tri­bu­tion of ed­u­ca­tional re­sources among dif­fer­ent schools, which in­duces par­ents to do ev­ery­thing they can to send their chil­dren to bet­ter schools, he said.

“It’s ironic that the ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties ask par­ents to fo­cus less on their chil­dren’s aca­demic scores but con­tinue to ad­mit stu­dents to high schools and col­leges solely on the ba­sis of scores in en­trance ex­ams,” Cui said.

“The new guide­line pro­vides good ways to lighten the heavy work­load on stu­dents, yet I ques­tion whether the ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties and schools have the mo­ti­va­tion to im­ple­ment it.”

Cui cited the ex­am­ple of the gov­ern­ment’s long push for the elim­i­na­tion of en­roll­ment tests, from kinder­garten to pri­mary school and from pri­mary school to mid­dle school. Al­though the prac­tice has been out­lawed since 2013, the ex­ams still ex­ist covertly, and no school prin­ci­pals have been pun­ished for im­ple­ment­ing them.

“If the prin­ci­pals of top mid­dle schools were stripped of their posts, they would not dare to or­ga­nize such tests in the fu­ture,” he said.

How­ever, some par­ents ar­gue that at­tempts to re­duce stu­dent work­loads would merely shift the teach­ing bur­den from schools to par­ents.

Liu Yong, the fa­ther of a fifth­grade stu­dent in Shang­hai, said no par­ent wants his or her child to start aca­demic life from a dis­ad­van­taged po­si­tion, so when the school day ends so early, at 3:30 pm, work­ing par­ents have no choice but to send their chil­dren to after-school tu­tor­ing classes.

His son at­tends seven after-school tu­tor­ing classes ev­ery week — three each in English and math­e­mat­ics and one in Chi­nese. They usu­ally last two to three hours each.

His son usu­ally re­turns home from the tu­tor­ing classes around 8:30 pm. He needs to fin­ish his home­work from school and the train­ing in­sti­tu­tions and some­times goes to bed around mid­night. His week­ends are also packed with tu­tor­ing classes.

“I do feel sorry for him when I see him yawn­ing while writ­ing the seem­ingly end­less home­work, and al­though I re­ally want my son to have more time to play, I have to re­mind my­self to be ra­tio­nal,” he said.

“To qual­ify for ad­mis­sion into a key mid­dle school, my son has to study hard now. Only by en­ter­ing a key mid­dle school can he study at a key high school and later at a good univer­sity. There’s no other op­tion.”

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