A mother in Shenzhen was surprised to learn her son could no longer remember any of the characters he learned during the recent school year when he returned to class after the National Day break.
She and her husband were quick to blame a new education policy rolled out in the 2016 school year to “alleviate the burden” of students by reducing formal their homework in favor of extracurricular projects.
The school said it is “afraid” of being reported for giving children homework during the holiday break. But many of the new complicated extracurricular assignments being given in place of homework are shifting the burden of school work to China’s parents.
“My son will be in 3rd grade next year. His school assigned him to design a brochure during his summer break,” said Pan, a mother in Changsha, Hunan province. Pan said the assignment involved Internet research and typesetting skills.
“It was obviously too much for a 3rd grade student. I had to do some of the work for him,” Pan said.
Her story has become a common one for parents in recent years. Many classes have their own WeChat groups, and teachers share students’ assignments in the group and ask parents to supervise and sign off on the work.
“In addition to reciting and copying textbook sentences, extracurricular assignments include making holiday decorations, leaf collages and other handcrafts. One of last week’s assignments challenged students to create Halloween decorations,” one netizen wrote. Almost every assignment required the assistance of parents or grandparents.
These new assignments did not exist before the revised national education policy, which stipulated that students in 1st or 2nd grade must not be given “homework.” In Tianji, students are not allowed to spend more than six hours per day in class before 10th grade.
Without homework to do after school, finding ways to manage the students’ after-school time has become a headache for Chinese parents. Since most schools only give students’ DIY projects and oral assignments, parents are taking more responsibility for supervising their children’s studies.
The extracurricular work has also led to questions of academic honesty. Liu, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, said forcing children to compete against the parents of other children is shattering trust.
“One time, the school organized an aquarium tour and requested that each student make their own painting. My daughter came home pouting. She said other students who had their parents help won praise from the teacher,” said Liu, who said letting parents do the work is akin to cheating.
For the parents who choose to participate, the extracurricular work is a headache that waits for them every day after work.
“I’m am afraid my son will be mocked and teased if I don’t help with his homework. That’s why I help him no matter how late I come home from work,” said a mother in Guangzhou.
The new policy has also created scheduling conflicts for parents. Many parents who work late now have to pay extra money to send their children to after-school classes to keep them safe until they can get off work. One mother in Beijing said she quit her job to be able to pick up her child after the new shortened academic day.
Others feel pressure from questions of academic competence.
Since the new education policy removes all testing for students in 1st or 2nd grade, many parents have turned to cram schools such as Xue’ersi as a way to measure their children’s improvement.
“I no longer have any way of knowing whether my child is doing well in his studies,”Xiong, a mother from Nanchang told Jiangxi Daily. Other parents worried their children won’t be able to enter a prestigious school without academic awards and high marks.
The Way Out
Xiong Bingqi, an education scholar, said the policy only fixes China’s homework problems on surface. “I think the education policy literally just transfers the academic burden to cram schools and parents. It doesn’t fix anything,” Xiong said.
The policy will never work as long as China’s exam-oriented education system exists, he said.
“In other words, the policy is just contributing to class division. In urban areas, what classes are supposed to teach ends up passed to the cram schools. In the countryside, it is totally lost and the students are put at a disadvantage,” Paper.cn wrote in an editorial.
Lang Xianping, a well-known economist in China, advocated a rethinking the definition of “burden relief.”
“There is no easy education. To be admitted to a top school, all students must make an effort. I think instead of relieving the burden, we should focus on promoting education equality. The solution to the problem is not marketization, but a total reform,” Lang said.
“What is more important is not to cut study time, but to increase education quality while decreasing study time,” said Hong Ming, a deputy researcher at the China Youth and Children Research Center.