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A Generation Under Academic Pressure
Tian Tian, a 12-year-old girl in North China's Shanxi Province was in such despair that she recently killed herself, leaving this letter behind.

"Dear parents, I can hardly express my gratitude to you for bringing me up in the past 12 years," it read. "But, I feel under such pressure. There is too much homework for me. I had no choice but to die. Last words from your daughter."

Her story and others like it are part of a growing trend of distress among young people that is concerning psychologists.

Their tales are grim.

Recently, a boy at a junior middle school in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, jumped off a building, leaving behind an unfinished test. Police ruled out homicide.

The news that a 16-year-old student in Jingtai County in Northwest China's Gansu Province killed his mother and said his father would be the next target, also startled people.

The psychological health of Chinese adolescents is being severely tested during these fast-changing times, psychologists say.

Currently, children under the age of 17 top 367 million in China, higher than in any other country, and some 30 million of them are facing psychological problems, experts say.

"Though children nowadays enjoy a much better living and study environment than their parents did, they are overwhelmed by a kind of invisible pressure and can not allow them to feel the pleasures of life," said Sun Yunxiao, deputy director of the China Youth and Children Research Center.

Students with psychological problems make up 21 percent of primary schools and 32 percent of secondary schools nationwide, statistics show. The ratio at universities and colleges range from 16 to 25 percent.

Chinese educators and psychologists are deeply studying what is causing such despair in young people.

At Tian Tian's primary school, administrators lightened the study load for pupils. On average, it takes students an hour a day to finish their homework, they said.

"The homework assigned by teachers has been reduced in recent years. But, examinations of all sorts have become popular, exerting great pressure on students," said Qin Jinliang, a professor with the Education Department at Shanxi Normal College.

Over half the students in large cities in China have attended classes on math, physics and chemistry because the courses give them better chances at being enrolled at top universities after graduation. Some even attend two or three courses after school.

According to a sample survey in Nanjing, an after-school training course take up 57 percent of a child's spare time, while children in some developed countries spend over 90 percent of their spare time on sports or activities of their own choosing.

"Such parental pressures are often ignored and can become a catalyst," Qin added.

Some sociologists attribute the phenomena to the traditional Chinese concept of having children "studying to become rulers."

They are urging parents to give more consideration to what their children want and to provide guidance and support when they face difficulties.

"Teachers and parents should treat children like friends, tell them how to communicate with others and teach them the right way to overcome problems and get rid of pressures imposed by others," suggests Tian Ying, a teacher at Guangming Primary School in Beijing.

(China Daily August 15, 2002)

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