When Chinese students returned to the classroom earlier this month they got the best back-to-school gift they could wish for – a huge cut in their homework quota.
Under the new national rules children in grades one and two receive no homework at all, students in grades three to six can be assigned up to an hour of extra exercises a day, and pupils in secondary school can be set up to an hour and a half of self-study.
All of this is a massive reduction from the three hours that Chinese primary and middle school students were averaging per day prior to the change.
Chinese educational authorities have been trying to reduce students’ academic burden for years. But most attempts have failed because parents persistently worried that any reduction meant their child would fall behind children at other schools or in other provinces in the country’s hyper-competitive education system.
And even when local school authorities imposed limits on out-of-class study, parents simply turned to the private sector to buy extra tuition, out of fear (again) of being left behind in the educational ‘arms race’.
The new rules – or the so-called “double reduction” policy – have a better chance of succeeding because they are issued by the central government. They place limits on both public schools and private sector tutors – the latter is now banned from teaching core-curriculum subjects.
Beijing is keen for the rules to stick because the cost and stress of education is one of the main reasons young adults cite for not wanting to have more children. Meanwhile the government is desperately trying to promote higher birth rates (see WiC551).
In addition, relentless study has been shown to have a detrimental effect on children’s mental and physical health, with students as young as nine taking their own lives because of the pressure. Chinese children have also shown abnormal levels of short sightedness (see WiC423) and rising levels of obesity.
Newly-established private tutoring companies will now be banned from teaching core-curriculum subjects such as Chinese Literature, Maths, History, Geography, English and Ethics while existing ones will have to register as non-profit organisations and reduce the amount they charge for lessons. Furthermore these tutors will not be able to offer classes on weekends, public holidays or during school vacations.
This has already led to the collapse of 160,000 such companies since the new policy was announced on July 24, according to Chinese enterprise database Tianyancha.
Previously many students would go straight from school (the day typically ends at 3.30pm) to a nearby private tuition centre. But in another boost to parents’ wallets the government has ordered public schools to provide two hours of after-class services each day so that the children of working parents have somewhere to be until 5pm.
The State Council said the goal of the changes was to “alleviate parents’ anxiety, and promote students’ all-round development and healthy growth”.
The Ministry of Education said it wanted to create a better education ecosystem.“Running every school well, allowing every student to receive fair and high-quality education, and creating a good education ecology will be the mission of educators in the new era,” it said in a widely published commentary.
One aspect of the new rules that has pleased a lot of parents is the total ban on teachers asking them to check or mark homework – something that many parents have struggled with in the past (sometimes because they themselves didn’t know the answers).
Parents have also welcomed the fact that homework can be completed in the newly introduced after-class study sessions on school campuses where teachers are available to help.
“I felt so helpless trying to help my child do his homework because I don’t have a good education myself,” one mother explained on Sina Weibo. Others said they had found their children’s tasks so hard that they had frequently burst into tears.
All told, it looks like a rare instance where a policy change in China has (so far) proven to be universally popular…
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