Chinese parents say intense competition forces them to send children to after-school classes

Mandy Zuo

More than 40 per cent of Chinese parents feel they have no choice but to send their children to after-school classes because of the intense competition in the education system, according to an online poll.

But just a quarter of the respondents said they thought the extra tutoring was actually necessary for their children.

Nearly 200,000 parents had responded to the survey, conducted by social network Weibo, by Tuesday.

It comes after a report last week said 60 per cent of children aged between three and 15 in mainland China were receiving extra tutoring outside the classroom.

That report, released by the China National Children’s Centre and the Social Sciences Academic Press, also said parents of children in the age range were spending an average of 9,200 yuan (US$1,290) per year on after-school classes to cope with growing academic pressure.

It was based on a survey of nearly 15,000 children in 10 mainland cities and rural areas.

For the children, that meant they were spending an average of less than two hours playing outside on weekends, according to the report. They were also found to be devoting an average of 88 minutes a day to homework on school days.

Chinese parents send their children to a wide range of after-school classes. Photo: Xinhua

Wu Hong, a researcher from the Dandelion Education Think Tank in Chongqing, said the findings reflected the widespread anxiety of parents over their children getting places at the top schools.

“Many parents don’t have their own ideas about how their kids should be educated and they just follow others blindly. For example, a friend of mine said she plans to send her two five-year-olds to an international school in Thailand just because several of her friends did that,” Wu said.

“It’s not that kids should not attend any after-school classes, but we are apparently giving them too much when they’re so young, and this is only limiting their imagination.”

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Studying a wider range of subjects in more depth than the public school syllabus requires and getting a head start by going over topics before they are covered in school have become common tactics used by parents trying to help their children compete in a challenging educational environment in China.

In the more affluent cities, some parents are spending a lot more than the average on their children’s extracurricular activities. Shanghai mother Emma Jin said she wanted to give her daughter, who is in Year Two, a good chance in the education system.

“Extra English classes cost 20,000 yuan for a year. She also takes dance classes, taekwondo and so on,” Jin said. “I don’t expect much from her, but I don’t want her to be the worst in the class either.”

Some parents said the pressure came from the schools.

“My child is studying at a public school. The teacher told us to have our child learn pinyin [the mainland’s system of romanisation of Mandarin script] in advance at after-school classes during the admission interview. Should I have just disregarded his advice?” one parent commented on Weibo.

‘Heavy burden’ of homework leaving Chinese children sleep-deprived, study finds

The heavy pressure on children from extra classes has meanwhile prompted the Ministry of Education to issue several directives to schools asking them to pay more attention to pupils’ well-being – including by encouraging them to get at least one hour of outdoor exercise and 10 hours’ sleep a day. Last year, it also banned cram schools from holding competitions or offering classes to children that were too advanced for their age.

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