China / Education

Chinese urban schools strive to 'slim' oversize classes

(Xinhua) Updated: 2016-03-29 18:12

JINAN -- At a cramped classroom in Heze city, 87 students pack into their desks. The room is so full, students brim to the blackboard, with the only visible space two small aisles that allow them to escape for recess.

It is a common sight at Mudan District Experimental Primary School in Heze City, East China's Shandong province.

The school has more than 5,000 students, while the average class size is around 80, almost double the the national standard of 45 for urban primary schools and 50 for urban middle schools.

Last week, the Heze city government held a meeting to discuss reducing its oversized classes, promising to build and expand 149 schools in the following two years, as over half of the city's class sizes in primary and middle schools go beyond class size standards.

A provincial survey conducted in 2015 showed that more than 40 percent of classes in primary and middle schools were oversized in Shandong. Ten percent of them had a class size of more than 66.

East China's Anhui province faces a similar problem. Statistics released by its education authorities last year revealed that around 13 percent of its middle and primary school class sizes were above standards.

"In other regions, the overcrowding problem is even more shocking," said Yang Dongping, president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.

At a middle school of Zhoukou City, in China's most populated province Henan, the average class size is more than 100. Students who sit in the back row have to stand up; otherwise they cannot hear what their teachers say. Three and four students commonly share one desk, and teachers have to use a loudspeaker, Yang said.


Squeezing as many students as possible into classrooms can hinder education as students receive less one-on-one attention.

"There are too many students per class. I cannot take care of everyone. Less than one fifth of them have the chance to interact with me," said Shandong-based teacher Wu Jie.

Oversize classes may even harm students' mental health. According to a survey conducted in three primary schools of north China's Hebei province, around 12.8 percent of students in such classes were in various levels of anxiety.

"There is little chance for me to ask or answer any questions during class," Wang Yue (psuedonym), a pupil from Anhui province, said. She shares a classroom with more than 70 peers.

The overcrowded schools also lack enough space for students to play or get exercise. Outdoor activity areas at schools should provide at least 6.75 square meters per student, according to Shandong standards. In reality, the number is closer to 3.75 square meters.


Growing class sizes indicate that allocation of education resources have not kept up with urbanization pace over the past years, said a local education official in Shandong.

Construction of new schools and enrollment of new teachers are urgently needed, Zhang Zhiyong, deputy head of Shandong provincial education department.

Three decades of reforms and opening up have witnessed fast urbanization in China. Statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics show the number of urban residents stood at 749.16 million at the end of 2014, accounting for 54.77 percent of the country's total population.0 According to a report on China's migrant population released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, around 62.5 percent of students aged six to 15 moved from rural areas to cities and counties with their parents in 2013, up 5.2 percentage points compared with 2011.

"A shortage of education resources has become the main problem we face," said Zhang Zhiyong.

Compared with commercial projects, local governments are less willing to use limited land and money to build more schools or hire more teachers.

In order to change this, Shandong pledged 122 billion yuan ($19 billion dollars) toward building 2,963 urban primary and middle schools that would add 55,000 more classrooms and hiring 110,000 more faculty members before the end of 2017.

Yang Dongping also said a better balance for educational development between urban and rural areas is needed. As Chinese parents prioritize their children's education, they tend to move where their kids can be better educated.

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