My younger cousin will take his national college entrance exam, commonly known as Gaokao
, next summer. Reaching school at 6:35 am and leaving at 10 pm from Monday to Saturday, he has been slogging for months. And on Sunday, the only day that he can be out of school, extra-curricular tutorials await him.
I can easily read exhaustion and anxiety on his face, and even on the faces of his parents. My aunt and uncle, in their 40s, match their schedule with their son's - they drive him to and from school every day to let their "baby" sleep longer. They are fearful of any tiny possibility that might ruin their kid's huge efforts for the exam. This critical exam, which is believed to be a life-changing event by many Chinese, is like a fire burning in their hearts, setting them restless.
This is probably the normal state of most Chinese high school students and parents as the Gaokao approaches. In fact, many parents start preparing for this exam way before senior high school.
Every time I pass by Haidian Huangzhuang, a hub for educational institutions and cram schools in Beijing, overwhelming advertisements cross my sight. There are customized courses of all kinds for high school, middle school, and primary school students. Even newborns are not spared - my 18-month nephew has begun to take English classes.
An advertising hoarding impressed me deeply, "If you send your kid here, we will cultivate him/her. If you don't, we will cultivate his/her competitors." It exactly mirrors the anxiety of Chinese parents: Once they slack off, hundreds of competitors may defeat their children.
Sometimes I feel that parents' anxiety is so severe that it even makes me, an unmarried woman, start to worry about education issues of my children to be born in the future.
Maybe it is against such a backdrop that the government has been trying to relieve the stress of students and parents. After the Ministry of Education
in December 2018 published a notice to ease students' burden, such as asking schools to control the amount of homework and strictly managing after-school training institutions, education departments of many cities and provinces have recently come out with more concrete measures.
In late October, East China's Zhejiang Province published a draft regulation on cutting the workload of students, including one clause granting rights to primary school pupils to refuse to do homework after 9 pm with parents' permission. And for middle school students, the time is 10 pm. In Nanjing, the capital of neighboring Jiangsu Province, similar rules have been laid down.
However, such measures, which should have been applauded by the society, are slammed by a great number of parents, who complain that they will instead pile more pressure.
A parent in Nanjing even wrote an article, which went viral, titled "Nanjing parents are driven crazy," claiming that the measures will only turn students into "relaxed, joyful and mentally healthy losers."
Indeed, as long as the exam mechanism is still there, and as long as Gaokao is still there, such simple and rigid clauses can hardly relieve the anxiety of parents and students. If schools close early, they are likely to seek extra-curricular classes. If after-school training institutions are prohibited, they might find family tutors. After all, with poor grades, no matter how well a child performs in other domains, he/she may be regarded a "loser."
Therefore, what we really should focus on is how to improve the education system and social concepts. In the short run, take Zhejiang's regulation, rather than limiting times, a better solution might be reducing mechanical and repetitive homework and assigning only essential tasks. In the long term, other selection mechanisms could be set, and grades should by no means be taken as the only standard to define a student.
I hope that a few years later, if I have my own kid, I would be a happy mother who can wholeheartedly accept a "relaxed, joyful and mentally healthy" child, regardless of his/her grades.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]