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Kids should study less, play more
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By Liu Shinan

My granddaughter, 10, was very happy the day before yesterday because her mother and the mother of one of her classmates took them to a park and a Pizza Hut to celebrate Children's Day. For a whole day, the two girls played heartily -- no homework, no extra-curricular skills training.

The happy life lasted only for one day. Yesterday, the routine resumed: doing homework till late at night and brushing up lessons learned at last weekend's English and "Olympic mathematics" courses.

Every time I went to my daughter's house in the evening, I saw my granddaughter sitting by the small desk in her room doing math exercises or writing a composition assigned by her teacher. On the white wall behind the desk is some graffiti she wrote. One sentence reads: "Why is the exercise endless?"

Poor girl!

But she is not the only unfortunate kid. Nearly all schoolchildren, at least in cities, suffer from the heavy burden of "studies". Although teachers have stopped giving after-school homework to primary school children - thanks to an order of the Ministry of Education, parents have been forcing their kids to attend various kinds of extra-curricular training courses - learning English, painting, music instrument, weiqi (go), "Olympic mathematics", and so on, every Saturday and Sunday.

Are these extra-curricular courses really necessary in children's education? The answer is definitely "No". Take the so-called "Olympic mathematics." These courses are very difficult for the children to grasp. Often, they are difficult even for adults.

Early last month, when well-known Russian mathematician Andrei Okunkov visited Nanjing, a local journalist showed him a question from a local "Olympic math" course. The winner of the prestigious Fields Medal thought for quite a few minutes before giving up. "Sorry, I feel a little bit muddled," he said.

In the past, there have been reports of university professors and doctors failing to solve such questions. These cases prove beyond doubt the absurdity of such courses for children. Parents know it, but they still want their kids to undergo such courses. "They have to", they say. "When other children attend such courses, my child cannot be left out."

That is the mentality of most parents. After the authorities banned schools from giving homework to children, schools started all kinds of extra-curricular courses. Some non-school organizations and teachers also began running such classes privately. They urged the parents: "Don't let your kid lose the race at the starting line."

Though there is no unified examination for primary school students to enter middle school and the government has decreed that they should be admitted to schools near their home, parents want their kids to attend "better quality" schools. These schools will test the applicants with higher-level examinations. And, whether a child can land a seat in a "better quality" school matters greatly for university admission.

Most parents want their kids to study out-of-school courses to be competitive. In such a situation, it is unrealistic to urge parents to stop sending their children to such courses. The only effective way is to ban these courses by law.

A few days ago, Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, planned to pass a law prohibiting parents from tracking their kids' Internet browsing "for the protection of the minors' privacy." Most netizens opposed the idea after it was reported online.

Whether right or wrong, I think a more urgent and practical necessity is a law banning all kinds of extra-curricular courses. This is essential to free our kids from the ridiculously heavy burden of "study" and allow them more time to play.

(China Daily June 3, 2009)

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