Summer no holiday for China's busy children

By Liu Junyang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, August 29, 2016
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My daughter is in grade 5, primary school. The day before summer vacation, I asked her: "My dear, are you happy about the holiday?" Can you imagine her answer? "My terrible summer holiday just started!" she exclaimed. From her long, heavy sigh I could definitely feel her sadness, frustration and desperation.

Look at her schedule: two math classes, three English classes, piano, skating and swimming (the last two are activities she enjoys), and she had to prepare for the grade-nine piano Examination of the Central Conservatory of Music. After the classes and the examination finished, the 7-week holiday had only 9 days left!

These are arranged by her tiger mom, the "general manager" of my girl's extracurricular programs. She is not exceptional. Many parents do the same thing.

"This is the trend of our time," "go with the flow," "what else I can do," she always says. I don't want to blame my wife, but I can't stop thinking about why our children can't enjoy a real holiday? What's wrong with our education?

According to the First Report on Higher Education Quality of China released on April 7, China currently has 37 million students accepted in high education, the highest in the world. We have 2,852 institutes of higher learning, the second largest in the world. Last year the gross enrollment rate (GER, the number of students enrolled divided by the number of the people in the same age cohort) of higher education was 40 percent, and the acceptance rate (the number of admitted students divided by the number of applicants) of the gaokao (National Higher Education Entrance Examination) is 74.33 percent, 12.3 times that of the year 1978.

I went to university in 1980, at that time the GER is only 2.22 percent, and the acceptance rate of gaokao is only 8 percent. No wonder people called universities "ivory towers." Today it is a lot easier to go to colleges, but unfortunately the pressure is still very tense and the burden is often too hard to bear, not only for the students but also for the parents.

If you are a parent in China, you will dream of you children going to the best school. You will do your best to fulfil this dream, from kindergarten, primary school, middle school and high school all the way to university. And if your child is in primary school and going to middle school, you'll spend a lot of money for extracurricular classes.

This is the reason for a booming new industry: extracurricular schools. The market is so big, some schools are famous listed companies, flush with cash and experienced teachers. One day outside the extracurricular classroom a father told me: "I believe the teaching here is much better than my son's school. If you want your kid to go to a better school, you have to come here. Even my son's teacher agreed with me."

We invest huge sums of money into the free public schools, but parents still spend lots of money on these extracurricular schools. On the one hand public schools are trying to reduce students' study burden; but on the other hand, children are busy going to extracurricular schools. These schools are taking away our children's evenings, weekends and holidays. Just look at their heavy bags and tired faces.

An industry that so many have praised as being full of growth potential is sapping all the life of our kids. This is something really wrong. Children are our future; if they are so tired today, what can we expect for them tomorrow?

The writer is associate professor in the culture and communications department and research fellow of the Sino-Denmark joint research center on China and International Relations, University of International Relations.

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