China mulls homework ban to relieve student stress

Children do their homework at the Dalongshan air-raid shelter to avoid the heat in Chongqing, China, June 19.

The Chinese government wants its students to spend less time studying in an effort to reduce stress — but experts question whether it will work.

Chinese students tired of doing too much homework may soon be getting a reprieve.

A new proposal from the country's Ministry of Education seeks to alleviate the burden on students by banning written homework in elementary schools.

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Instead, the new guidelines suggest replacing homework with field trips to museums, libraries and cultural facilities and to improve students' hand-on capabilities through handicrafts or farm work.

"For primary school students who start the first day of the new semester today, nothing is more important than the pending decision," wrote China Daily on Sept. 2 of the proposal, which has sparked debate in China.

Faced with intense competition to get into the best schools and universities, Chinese schoolchildren spend hours on homework. 

"The Chinese culture is operated in such a way that you are only good when you are better than others." — Yong Zhao, education scholar

The Daily wrote that although the Chinese government has been trying to implement some of these changes for a long time, little has actually been done.

"Given all the discussion in Chinese media and online blogs, it looks like the plan is going to be adopted this year," said education scholar Yong Zhao, who has written about the government's proposal.

Yong Zhao said the plan seeks to de-emphasize standardized testing for primary school students and reduce the time students spend on academics.

"The government doesn't want any extra instruction offered beyond school," he said.

Yong Zhao added that almost every measure outlined in the new regulations has already been tried in some way.

"So it's hard to say how successful it will be this time," he said. "China is such a big country — how are they going to enforce it?"

The problem lies in the way Chinese parents perceive academic success, he said.

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"The Chinese culture is operated in such a way that you are only good when you are better than others," he said. "Every parent wants their child to get into the best university — so there's a race to send them to the best kindergarten, the best middle school, the best high school, and so on. The race begins when the child is born."

Even if the government is successful in banning standardized tests and homework in schools, private tests and tutoring will take their place, he said. 

The education ministry has received nearly 5,956 comments on the new guidelines, 90 percent of which are in support, Zhao said.

Not all Chinese students, however, think that they have too much homework.

"It's not that much work," one girl told the Shanghaiist. "Sometimes it takes just half an hour to 40 minutes."

"My parents just bought me some workbooks," another student said. "They just want me to learn better and get into a good junior high school."

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