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Concerns over Maximum Length of School Day
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Parents and principals in a southwest China city have expressed concerns about a new rule that sets maximum school hours for hard-pressed primary and middle school pupils.


Primary school children have a maximum six-hour school day, for junior middle school students it's seven hours and for senior middle school students it's an eight hour day, according to the rule adopted in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province.


"The rule appears good as it sets school time limits, forbids the prolonging of classes and extra classes," said 45-year-old Chen Zhaosheng. His daughter is a middle school student in the city. "But I have some doubts as to whether it can be put into practice as teachers and students now only focus on exams," he said.


Guiyang is not the first to set maximum school hours. In accordance with a regulation issued in 1994 by China's education authorities requesting schools to ease children's study burden cities such as Tianjin, Zhengzhou and Wuhan announced similar rules.


In urban primary schools children commonly stay at school after class and study until their parents pick them up. Many middle school students remain doing homework assigned by teachers.


"My son is addicted to Internet bars. I can't imagine what will happen when he is completely left alone as the school will ask him to go home earlier than before," said Lin Zhigang, 41, whose son is in middle school.


Like Chen and Lin many parents have a wait-and-see attitude toward the new rule which will come into force in the new spring semester. But some principals are supportive.


"I totally support the rule, which has led to the cancellation of morning self-study classes, allowing students more sleep at home," said Ci Zhaoming, vice-president of the No. 21 Middle School. The stipulation on less homework was also good as that allowed students more free time.


Chinese middle school students are often compelled to sacrifice spare time for homework in the face of fierce competition in college entrance exams. These are regarded by parents as the best opportunity for a successful future.


According to the Ministry of Education universities and colleges nationwide enrolled 5.3 million students last year from more than 9.5 million who sat entrance exams -- a failure rate of almost half.


To ensure their children's success pushy Chinese parents and teachers put heavy pressure on children to spend more time studying. A survey by the China Youth and Children Research Center showed 88 percent of primary school parents and the mums and dads of 50 percent of middle school students assigned extra homework to their children.


A survey by the Ministry of Education in 2004 showed that 30 percent of primary school children and 60 percent of middle school pupils suffered myopia, or short-sightedness, commonly attributed to too much study.


"The purpose of the rule is to ease the burden on students but the problem lies in the exam-oriented education in which high marks, to a great degree, mean excellence and a bigger chance to enter college," said Ci.


"Of course I want my child to relax from study," said parent Chen. "But I have to be responsible for her future as the pressure for entrance into higher schools or colleges is always there." He plans to find a tutor to help with his daughter's classes during her summer holidays this year.


(Xinhua News Agency January 18, 2007)

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