Less homework may turn out to be a valuable lesson

Updated: 2013-08-24 09:50

By Chen Weihua in Washington and Zhang Yue in Beijing (China Daily)

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Opinions divided on proposal to reduce exam pressure on students

A recent draft proposal looking at slashing written homework for primary school students may see an outpouring of joy from many children, but their parents and teachers are divided on the proposal's wisdom.

The draft was released by the Ministry of Education on Thursday, and posted online for comments.

It suggests that primary schools, from grade one to six, should not give students any written homework and opt instead for more practical assignments working with their parents. The proposal aims to ease excessive academic pressure, the ministry said.

However, as China follows exam-oriented education, many parents harbor ambivalent feelings.

Yang Bo, a 38-year-old father who works for a US-funded company in Beijing, says that instead of relief he feels the proposal is, in fact, transferring pressure from school to parents.

"Study pressure on kids and parents does not come from schools and teachers, but, in fact, comes from exam-oriented education," he said.

"I do hope my daughter will have less homework, but there is competition as she will enter middle school through exams in only four years."

Yang's 8-year-old daughter will enter third grade in elementary school in Beijing in September.

She usually spends one hour at home for after-school assignments and spends a whole day every week in extra-curricular classes, studying English and painting.

The proposal also suggests that teachers should not conduct any major tests from grade one to grade three, and says that schools should give students extra-curriculum activities that encourage them to work with their parents.

Some parents applaud the proposal, especially those who are thinking of sending their children overseas for education.

Ma Zhenfang, a 39-year-old father working in Beijing, said he looked forward to the proposal coming into force as his daughter will have more free time.

"Personally, I do not agree with the current idea of basic education in China in which children spend large amounts of time in areas such as mathematical modeling. This will not be much help when you step into society and start your career," he said.

"And I really hope my daughter can spend more time on areas she is passionate about, such as painting."

Ma said he is thinking about sending his daughter to the United States for education.

Interestingly, in what appears to be a gradual change of mind, a recent survey in the US shows that Americans want more pressure on their children to work harder in school.

The finding, from a survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, was reported in an article posted on Thursday on its website by associate director Richard Wike.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1,001 people surveyed said parents do not put enough pressure on children to do well in school.

In China, a majority (68 percent) of 3,308 respondents said parents put too much pressure on their children to succeed in school, according to a survey by the same organization in 2011.

Of 21 nations polled in the survey, parents in the US showed the highest percentage of respondents saying more pressure should be applied on children.

The findings are a response in the US to warnings of low test scores and under-performing schools, said Wike.

As for the Chinese response to the survey, Wike said he believes the Chinese education system's intense focus on exams has received a fair amount of attention in recent years, in particular following the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam.

Shanghai students topped the rankings for math, science and reading.

"Apparently, many Chinese believed the long hours of test preparation were a bit too much," Wike said.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll of 1,001 people in the US released on Wednesday said most believe that schools should teach "soft skills" such as critical thinking and communication.

Christina Stouder, a Chinese teacher at Washington Latin Public Charter School who previously taught in Hunan province, said she has seen a general trend in US schools of wanting to become more like Chinese schools, especially regarding the exam culture.

Quality education has been a hot topic among teachers and parents in China to turn students away from overemphasis on exams.

But progress has been slow due to the heavy pressure involved in preparing for the college entrance exam.

"It's true that Chinese students have a lot more exams than US students. But even US students are focusing more on exams because of changes in the US school system," said Stouder.

However, Stouder does not think that US parents are calling for something as extreme as exactly following the schools in China. "I think the parents at our school want their children to have a very challenging curriculum and plenty of work. But there is no call for more work. I think they had enough," she said.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com