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Young Chinese students kickstart new semester with less burden, more choices

Education
A national campaign has been launched in China to reduce excessive homework and off-campus tutoring for students receiving the free nine-year compulsory education.

XinhuaUpdated: September 2, 2021

School bells rang again across China as the fall semester kicked off on Wednesday with strict anti-epidemic measures in place.

This academic year is expected to inject fresh air into China's basic education as a national campaign has been launched to reduce excessive homework and off-campus tutoring for students receiving the free nine-year compulsory education.

The campaign has sent the newly coined term "Shuangjian," or "double reduction" in English, trending for weeks on social media since the middle of summer vacation, as the lives of millions of students in primary and junior high schools are expected to see big changes.

For many years in China, heavy workloads and wildly growing off-campus tutoring services have compelled pre-college students to get into excessive, and sometimes unfair, competition.

The situation has also aggravated parents' financial burden and caused immense anxiety among those who always want their children to receive the best education.

In response to the society's growing concerns regarding the issue, Chinese authorities in July issued a document specifying a set of requirements and guidelines aimed at pursuing a high-quality basic education and ensuring students' healthy growth and all-round development.

The guidelines called on schools to recalibrate homework assignments and improve classroom teaching to boost the efficiency of students' in-school study.

At the same time, regulations over off-campus institutions providing curriculum subject-tutoring services will be strengthened, while after-class services in schools will be extended to meet students' individualized demands, according to the document.

No paper-and-pencil exams will be arranged for first- and second-graders in primary schools, and only a final examination is allowed at the end of the semester for other grades, said Lyu Yugang, an official with the Ministry of Education, at a press conference on Monday.

As the main "battlefield" of the national campaign, primary and junior high schools across the country have started to implement relevant policies formulated by local authorities based on the document.

A teacher greets a first-year student with a flower-shaped badge at the Taipinglu Primary School in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 1, 2021. (Xinhua/Ren Chao)

In Beijing, all related schools will offer a 2-hour after-class service from Monday to Friday, and extend the duration for students with special demands, said the municipal education authorities.

The service will allow some 1.4 million students to do their assignments on the campus or foster their hobbies in arts, sports, and other areas under the guidance of professional instructors.

Physical health will be emphasized as more extra time is spared from academic studies. Luwan Middle School in Shanghai plans to establish a monitoring platform for parents to upload information including their children's sleeping time, the completion time of homework, among others, for continuous adjustment of workloads.

Many cities have also taken concrete measures to improve educational equality. Beijing will promote rotation of principals and teachers among schools, while schools in Nanjing, the provincial capital of Jiangsu, will try to maintain each class with students of similar average learning abilities.

"During the phase of compulsory education, schools should give equal attention and care to every student," said Weng Deqiang, principal of Jinling High School Xianlin Campus in Nanjing.

Schools are also encouraged to make good use of online courses designed by elite teachers across the country. A nationwide selection of high-quality basic education courses was launched this month, said Lyu with the Ministry of Education on Monday.

Students walk on the campus at Shuiguohu No.1 elementary school in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo by Deng Nan/Xinhua)

EXPECTATIONS VS. CHALLENGES

Students and parents are full of expectations for a brand-new life in the "double reduction" era.

Zhang Yi, 14, from Peking Academy High School in Beijing, said he feels happy because he will have more time for extracurricular activities.

An Jin, a resident of Nantong of Jiangsu Province, was surprised to learn that his fourth-grader daughter will be able to stay at school for two additional hours every school day.

"This will greatly reduce the burden on our whole family," he said. As both he and his wife have to go to work, the job of picking up the child from school could only be left to the grandparents.

A father of a junior high school student in Beijing, on condition of anonymity, said he no longer has to worry about his child's eyesight with less homework.

He, however, has mixed feelings about the effects of certain changes, wondering whether his child's scores will slide without enough off-campus tutoring.

"I told him to take more initiative in studies because now he will rely more on himself than before," he added.

Education experts have their answers to the issue. Yang Zhenfeng, an official with the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, said in a recent interview that a "theater effect" is undesirable in a healthy education system.

"When some students take off-campus courses, their scores may be improved. But when all students do so, the admission scores will rise," he said.

In the long term, with constant improvement of schools' after-class services, more students will come back to the campus instead of trying to find expensive one-on-one tutoring, said Zhang Zhiyong, a professor with Beijing Normal University.

Experts also called for attention to enhancing teachers' motivation in face of longer school days. According to the Ministry of Education, teachers are allowed to work on a flexible time schedule and obtain subsidies for after-school services.

Pupils walk to attend the opening ceremony for the new semester at the Taipinglu Primary School in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 1, 2021. (Xinhua/Ren Chao)

RESTORING HEALTHY EDUCATION SYSTEM

Guiding principles of the initiative have called for efforts to build a good education ecology, effectively relieve parents' anxiety, and promote students' all-round and healthy growth.

"'Double reduction' is not to reduce the quality of education, but to improve efficiency," said Miao Dejun, vice principal of Jiangsu Rugao Senior High School.

With more targeted school-based teaching strategies, children will naturally get more pleasure in learning, he added.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences, said that a scientific, people-oriented educational concept should be established, and educators should not focus on students' scores only.

"This school year will see profound changes for schools, students and parents, and all parties need to adapt and respond to changes in a rational way," he added.

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