China takes multi-pronged measures to boost education equality, youth development

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China has taken measures in recent weeks to reduce the heavy workload of students, tighten the limits on online gaming and rein in raucous celebrity culture, in an effort to promote fairness in its competitive education system and ensure the well-rounded development of young people.

For many years, Chinese students faced the issue of excessive workloads, leading to the increased incidence of myopia, sleep deprivation and substandard fitness that worry many parents.

Surveys have shown that roughly 67 percent of Chinese students did not meet the standard number of sleeping hours recommended by the education authority, while about 53 percent have developed myopia.

To make things worse, off-campus tutoring driven by profit has exploded in recent years, exacerbating the academic burden on children and aggravating the financial burden on parents. The "rat race" of private tutoring has widened education inequality, feeding off the anxiety of parents who are willing to fork out 200 yuan (about 31 U.S. dollars) or more for a 45-minute tutoring class to help their kids score high in tests.

In response to society's growing concerns regarding the issue, China has initiated an education overhaul across the country, pledging to effectively ease the academic burden on students and reduce the financial burden on parents over the course of a year, with notable progress to be seen within three years.

A set of guidelines issued in July called on schools to recalibrate homework assignments, improve their classroom teaching and develop after-class services to meet students' individualized demands.

At the same time, the document strengthened regulations regarding off-campus institutions, stopping approving new off-campus, curriculum subject-tutoring institutions for students in compulsory education.

"The free-wheeling growth of off-campus tutoring has not only disrupted in-school education but also expanded education inequality," said Gu Mingyuan, a professor at Beijing Normal University, lauding the move as a crucial step toward the better all-round development of students.

Local education departments have responded quickly. Shanghai has introduced detailed regulations to ensure that first- and second-graders don't have paper assignments, and higher graders at the primary school can finish their homework within an hour. Various club activities, such as chess and magic, have been included into after-class services at school.

Other cities have also taken concrete measures to improve educational quality and equality. Beijing will promote the rotation of principals and teachers among schools to encourage equitable access to high-quality education resources.

Liu Chunyan, the mother of a pupil in the southern city of Guangzhou, feels relieved that her son will have less homework and more leisure time in the new semester.

Some parents have mixed feelings about the changes. "I used to worry that, as the study pressure is relieved, my child would spend more time playing video games after school," said Hou Jinxiang, the father of a fourth grader in Hami, in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

A regulation targeting online-gaming addiction released this week tackles the issue, further protecting minors' healthy growth during extracurricular life.

The "strictest-ever" regulations stipulate that online-game providers can only offer one hour of services to minors from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, while demanding real-name registration and logins.

China has roughly 158 million internet users aged between six and 19. A research report on internet usage by minors in 2020 revealed that "more than 60 percent of underage netizens frequently play games online."

Tong Lihua, director of the Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center, warned of the adverse effects brought about by online-gaming addiction to kids, including harm to their physical and mental health, as well as their academic performance that will sometimes lead to soured child-parent relations and even potential youth crime.

The Chinese government has attached great importance to the development of young people. It has also promulgated regulations targeting undesirable tendencies in celebrity culture and malpractice in fandom activities that have warped teenagers' values and exerted a negative influence on their physical and mental health.

Minors are banned from joining the costly campaigns of pop stars, and restricted from taking part in pop star competition votes, the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission said in a statement, adding that online gatherings of fan groups should not target minors.

Internet platforms are also required to tighten supervision on their contents, such as removing posts involving bickering and defamation between rival fan clubs, and closing accounts that violate rules.

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