And Finally

Lateral thinker

Harbin student finds handwriting fix


Full marks for ingenuity

Chinese children do more homework than kids in any other nation – an average of 2.87 hours a day, according to, an online education service provider.

Much of it involves writing out Chinese characters and transcribing text in Chinese and English so that they get a feel for the language and memorise the words. It is dull, monotonous work.

So one girl in the northeastern city of Harbin turned to Alibaba shopping’s platform Taobao for a solution. Using her Chinese New Year ‘red envelope’ money she ordered a “handwriting robot” and paid an extra Rmb30 for express delivery so it would arrive in time to help her with her holiday homework.

All was going well for the high-school student: in two days the robot had finished a month’s worth of transcription work. But her mother, whose family name was Zhang, grew suspicious when she saw her daughter’s neat, mistake-free assignments.

Later she found the Rmb800 machine under her daughter’s bed.

“Zhang smashed the robot in anger and scolded her daughter,” Qianjiang Evening News reports.

The news gained over 24 million views on Sina Weibo, where many commended the girl for her ingenuity. State media also sounded a sympathetic note with Xinhua reminding teachers that they should try to set “interesting” homework.

The Guangming Daily offered supportive words too, highlighting that “holidays should be a time for children to relax” and that “intense homework programmes made them feel overburdened”.

Homework has been a hot issue for a while in the media, with many parents complaining that the burden is too great. A survey by another online education portal, Xiaoyuan Mental Arithmetic, found that helping children do their homework is a major source of family stress: 87% of parents said they got angry with their kids, while 84% said it prompted arguments with their spouse. The government has been trying to reduce the number of out-of-school study hours but with little success (see WiC401). In some schools work is just given another name to make it look like the institution is complying with the new regulations. Many parents hate the fact that their kids have little free time. But they also worry about them falling behind in the race to get into the best universities, leading to pressure on schools to keep assigning lots of tasks.

Other parents discussing the handwriting robot on social media said they often ended up writing out their children’s homework for them. “I think it is worth buying a machine like that, after all, all my son’s holiday transcription was done by me,” said one. Several versions of the handwriting robot can be found on Taobao. Most are comprised of two metal axles which allow the ‘hand’ (gripping the pen) to slide over the page. Sales have soared since news of the teenager’s ruse got out. Some companies have even run out of stock, said.

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