Pressured children face testing times
As primary and middle school children return to school for the new term, Shanghai Education Bureau has vowed to reduce the pressure on students. This vow is nothing new: pledges of this kind in other cities have been heard dozens of times before.
Despite years of painstaking efforts by education authorities to relieve students from excessive study loads, a recent survey of 114 schools by the Shanghai Education Information Investigation Team shows that the burden has in fact grown heavier, not lighter.
For many students, the winter vacation was simply a time to do endless homework and go to extra classes. This term the schoolbags are no lighter. They still have to get up early, probably before dawn, in order to get to school before 7:20 am. Hours of homework every day mean that they have little time to play. In fact, many children now simply refuse to play.
Weekends are no time for fun either, as parents arrange extra classes for their children. It used to be that students at the bottom of their class had to take extra classes in order to catch up. Now, top students do the same in order to leave everybody else behind.
Most schools have been half-hearted about carrying out education authority policies or administrative orders for less homework and fewer classes, because it may mean lower scores for their students in city or national exams, especially university entrance exams. That would mean shame for the school and lower bonuses for teachers.
Any real measures by schools to lessen burdens are likely to meet strong resistance from parents, blaming teachers for not doing a good job.
It would be unthinkable for most Chinese parents to protest about excessive homework, as some parents in California in the United States did when schools assigned homework to students during the summer vacation. In China, the opposite would be true.
Unfortunately, many children are less happy than their parents were in their childhoods, despite abundant material wealth. Surveys have found high levels of depression and other psychological problems among school children.
We cannot simply accuse the schools of overburdening students. Most important in the current educational assessment system are test scores, widely regarded in China as equivalent to intelligence. Other educational goals - good morality and physique - are usually deemed less important, although this is seldom acknowledged.
We also cannot blame parents, even if they willingly become perpetrators or accomplices in the theft of a colourful childhood from their offspring. Their love for their children - usually only child - should not be questioned.
They point to the national university entrance exams, which would exclude their children from opportunities if they fail to achieve excellent scores. They point to the increasingly tough job market, which heavily favours diplomas over practical capabilities.
So what should be reformed is the university entrance system that rewards top test scorers. Universities should admit students with good academic records, but they should pay more attention to their all-round abilities, morality, physique and other qualifications, such as social work.
What should also be reformed is the rote learning system that requires students to learn like a machine.
Human resources departments should pay more attention to the practical ability of future employees instead of the fame of school they have come from.
It would be fruitless to just ask kindergartens, primary and middle schools and parents to help overburdened students, without addressing the above reforms.
The future generation will be in great danger if their only early memories are endless homework, memorization and tests. Their competitiveness on the global stage will be enhanced, not diminished, if they have a healthy and wholesome childhood.
(China Daily 02/21/2006 page4)
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