And Finally

Who is teaching who?

A backlash against school WeChat groups as exhausted parents protest


Homework for her and plenty of work for her mum and dad too

Social media can be all-consuming, chewing up a growing proportion of our waking hours. All the more so, it seems, for millions of parents of Chinese schoolchildren, who have signed up for parent-teacher groups supported on WeChat.

Set up to help bridge the gap between school and home, the groups were intended as a force for good. But a recent video of a father screaming in frustration about his child’s jiazhangqun (the name of the groups in Chinese) sparked an outpouring of anger, with parents complaining that the groups take over their lives and leave them feeling like failures.

The 17-second video was posted by a father from eastern Jiangsu province, showing him complaining that his child’s teacher had used the social media group to ask parents to grade their children’s homework. He went on to criticise the culture of flattery in the WeChat circles, saying that he felt obliged to thank the teacher repeatedly. “But what’s your value since I’m the one who teaches my child and grades his homework?” he asked. “If I have so much time to check all the messages on the group all the time, I do not need you anymore.”

There are some 240 million children in Chinese schools and most parents will be a member of at least one parent-teacher WeChat group. One mother of two told the Yangtze Evening News that she is a member of 16 of them, “none of which can be blocked or deleted” without losing touch with her kid’s educators.

She added that the sheer volume of information going through each channel, and the audacity of the instructions that she receives from teachers, have brought her to tears.

Another bemoaned the parental machinations in her child’s school group – as mums and dads seek to gain favour with the teacher – to the intrigues of an imperial palace harem, which have featured in a series of recent TV dramas.

The video from Jiangsu – which was also aired by a local news channel – was not the first time the groups have caused public consternation. Last September the People’s Daily posted a video of a father breaking down at a school meeting after a teacher scolded him for not replying through the class WeChat. He explained that he worked long hours as well as taking care of his child and that he was unable to reply on every occasion. His outburst went viral, leading the People’s Daily to call for a rethink on homework volumes and the often fraught school-parent relationship.

Yet teachers point out that when they try to reduce the pressure on students by cutting the amounts of homework (see WiC401), some parents complain and ask for additional tasks to be set.

Some teachers have also pushed back against the notion that it is lazy for them to ask parents to check their children’s homework. Rather, they say, the request is meant to encourage parents of younger kids to monitor their progress and make sure their schoolwork is being done.

However, education officials in Liaoning have joined other provinces this month in banning teachers from asking parents to mark their children’s homework in this way. “Grading homework is part of the job requirement for teachers, and they should not be lazy and shirk the responsibility,” a teacher at a school in Hunan agreed in the China Daily.

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