Educational reform in China: a Sisyphean exercise?

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 30, 2018
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Several educational administrations in China have recently enacted new regulations in attempt to ease the burdens placed on students.

For instance, the education bureau in Jiangsu province prohibits homework to be assigned to pupils in grades one and two. At the same time, in the neighboring province of Zhejiang, time-consuming homework is discouraged and it is stipulated that the students in primary school can stop doing homework at 9 p.m. and those in secondary school may do schoolwork no later than 10 p.m.

However, for many parents, the education reforms are like a Sisyphean cycle, always ending in futility.

Even as schools are trying to alleviate student stress caused by intensive class schedules and excessive homework, they are confronted with the disapproval of parents from the other side.

"My daughter used no more than two exercise books over the course of a semester when she was in grade three. Her phonics and writing were less progressive than what I achieved when I was her age," said one mother, speaking on the condition of anonymity in her interview with China Comment.

Chen, a father in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, complained that after sending his child to public primary school, he was surprised to know that the school is closed at 2 to 3 in the afternoon, much earlier than he can finish work for the day. Furthermore, the children are given little homework, which may prevent them fully comprehending all they were taught in classes. Therefore, the father feels he has no option but to resort to afterschool education.

"While emphasizing the importance of education for all-around development, the school has cut many classes, which pushed us to search for extracurricular tutoring at considerable extra cost to us," Chen said.

While urban students complain about the stress of relentless extracurricular classes, the rural children are losing interest in school.

Han Fei, an official from China Executive Leadership Academy, Jinggangshan, Jiangxi province, expressed immense concern about the education of rural young people following a visit to his hometown of Zaozhuang, Shandong province.

He later published an article saying he was stunned to find that most young people in the village would not take their eyes off their mobile games for even a moment. Their total absorption in their games causes Han a great deal of worry about their future.

However, when he talked with local parents, warning that over-indulgence in cell-phone games may ruin the future of their children, parents responded with cynicism: "Future? Who cares? Rural people are supposed to go to work after secondary school."

Former headmaster Wu Xiaomao said, "Before quality education on an equal level can take shape, any attempt to scrap the nationwide entrance exam will result in rampant rent-seeking deals maneuvered by power and money.

"Therefore, the masses will feel they are deprived of equal rights, making them believe in social unfairness," Wu added.

Zhang Jie, the author of "Childhood Rivalry: Families of Straight-A Students Talk About Education," said, "The scarcity of resources will undoubtedly lead to competition, which cannot and will not be simply removed by dismounting the burdens carried by students. Without open and fair competition, the hidden rules will prevail."

At the recently concluded two political sessions in Beijing (the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference), Chen Baosheng, minister of education, said that what the ministry tries to alleviate are the courses taught beyond the syllabus, which violate the pedagogic rule and affect both the mental and physical development of students.

However, Chen added that those within the syllabus are called school assignments, which the students must make the effort to master. According to him, easing the burden of students requires not only educational reforms but also the concerted effort of society as a whole. 

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