Must not try harder
The education ministry tries to ban homework
Sep 7th 2013 | BEIJING |From the print editionPURGES may be what political junkies are talking about, but for Chinese families the big issue recently has been homework. Children across the country have returned to their classrooms this week just as the education ministry has put forward plans to decrease the amount of homework pupils must do each day.
The ministry’s proposed guidelines, issued on August 22nd, would ban written homework for any child up to the age of 12, and ban exams for children up to the age of nine. It also said that primary schools should organise more extra-curricular activities, such as visits to museums and places of cultural interest, and “cultivate pupils’ hands-on capabilities through handicrafts or farm work”.
Amid intense competition for university places and jobs, Chinese schoolchildren spend hours on homework each night. Pressure from an early age is the cause of constant hand-wringing in the press. Yet the very notion of lightening the burden has met opposition from the people who complain most: parents. Last spring Beijing attempted its own homework restrictions, but workloads crept back up as insistent parents worried about their children falling behind.
The new proposals have drawn tens of thousands of comments on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, with older children saying they heard similar ideas of reform when they were at school ten years ago, but nothing changed. On his microblog Wang Xiaodong, co-author of a book called “Unhappy China”, suggested that the ministry stop micro-managing every element of basic education and leave the work to teachers and students. But that idea might lead to more homework, if current patterns hold. The biggest contribution education officials could make, wrote Mr Wang, was “to give themselves a six-month holiday”.
The real problem is the underlying system. As one microblogger wrote: “If the employment environment remains the same, if the gaokao [entrance exam] is not cancelled, if the top universities still enroll only the students with the highest score, it is impossible to reduce pupils’ burdens”. All those worries are compounded by corruption, inequity and disparity in teacher-training and compensation. Few believe such deep structural problems can be countered simply by a call for less homework.