“I am Nancy, a student from Nanjing International School. However, I used to study in a local Chinese school called Hankou Lu Primary School.”
Going back 20 years, education for Chinese high school students was always the same; planning for teaching, review previous study, teach new classes, homework, which is called the “Five Formal Lesson-Steps”.
This type of method places high pressure on students. Most Chinese think that being able to enter a high quality high school is an testament to a child’s capability for study, but the teacher often conducts lessons quickly and briefly, assigning a large amount of time for students to do many difficult practice questions, which piles on even more pressure. Rachel Luo, a Grade 10 student in the Jinling High School, a major local high school, said, “I understand every word the teacher said, but not if they are put together in a sentence”.
Under these kinds of learning conditions, where teachers and even some of the parents only pay attention to grades and results, children have to bear the burden of study to meet their parents’ high expectations amid much competition with others, which leads to less or even no time for any kind of activity or interests. Research has shown that 39.79 percent of high school students have psychological problems, often manifested in neurasthenia, due to a large amount of schoolwork coupled with less sleeping and activity, especially the physical kind.
Since activity is able to reduce the stress on students from a whole day with their heads down, the China Education Bureau long ago decided to add morning exercises called “Guangboticao” (广播体操) to each and every schoolchild’s daily life. Thus, on 24th November, 1951, students began a daily series of aerobic exercises lasting for approximately 10 minutes. The practice continues to this day. However, many students believe the Guangboticao to be not very useful. On the contrary, some think that it does not even help on the exercise front; rather it is simply a break from a tough day of study. Speaking with The Nanjinger, Maggie Chen, a Grade 10 student from the High School Affiliated to Nanjing Normal University (Jiangning Campus), said, “Since we spend most of the time studying, there is less time for us to do any type of exercise, so Guangboticao for some of us is the only time we get to do something similar to exercise”.
“Most of us don’t even pay attention to this, but I think if you [do] actually pay attention and do every movement properly, it might have some affect”, commented a student from Grade 10 in the Nanjing No. 29 High School.
“I remember when I was in Primary School, while we had to do Guangboticao every morning, we also had another form of Guangboticao for us to do in our classroom when it is raining. I also remember that no one in our class liked this, including me; we thought this was very embarrassing.”
The Education Bureau went on to add series of physical tests of endurance, strength and speed for students, so that they and their parents could pay more attention to physical health. From 12th November, 2017, this physical test becomes mandatory for all students, and no matter how high they score in their written exams, if they do not pass, they will not receive a High School diploma. They will be able to have a chance to redo the test, however.
The Nanjinger conducted a survey that surprisingly revealed both students and parents believe the regulation to be quite necessary. Maggie Chen added, “I think having this rule is quite nice, since a student cannot only focus on studying, because the physical health is also important. If the student’s body is not able to bear the pressure from studying, having a super smart brain is totally useless”.
Ms. Xu, a parent of a Grade 11 student, said “Grades are important, but they are not as important as health, so I think it is quite necessary to have this test”. Nevertheless, there are also some students who dislike the new ruling, due to the fact that they can obtain good grades in main subjects, and they do not want these to be affected by Physical Education.
On the other hand, to help students to relax, most high schools have decided to implement some type of huodong, such as drama festivals and Christmas parties. Teachers believe that such activities are able to make students feel more relaxed mentally, i.e. trying to make them think about something else rather than studying and homework, and also to inspire their skills in creativity and leadership.
In spite of this, according to the aforementioned survey, Sherry Qi, a Grade 10 student from the High School Affiliated to Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics said, “As the Grade level gets higher, the less activities there are. And by the way, the students show only a little interest in most of the activities the school sets up”.
Liu Jiyuan from Jiangsu Huaian Middle School revealed to The Nanjinger, “I think those activities don’t help [in] reducing stress. We have to participate in those activities, and at the same time think about school work, but don’t have much time actually working on the school work due to the participation in the festivals.” Yet again, there are also some students who think that such activities help them to deal with the stress and pressure from school work.
Outwith school time, some parents also decide to sent their children to many additional activities; music, drawing, badminton, etc. Parents believe that this can help their child to build up some kind of interest, and at the same time help them release stress from tough school lives.
The China Youth Daily Social Investigation Centre conducted a separate survey, of 1,316 people on the topic of activities of interest. It revealed that more than 37 percent of students have joined many different types of extra-curricular activities, while more than 60 percent of parents think that letting their child join different types of activities is helping them to develop their talents.
The survey also divulged that one of the most important reasons parents sign their children up for special activities is not because their children have that area of interest, but that other parents’ children had signed up for different activities, and they do not want their children to fall behind compared to others. Indeed, data shows that more then 30 percent of parents think this way.
A positive side effect is that more than 61 percent of surveyed parents stated that they will help their children to sign up for activities in which they are most interested, and will not force their child to join those they are not. In general, approximately 29 percent of parents think that it is necessary for their children to build up some types of hobbies, 28 percent believe that they should leave free time that their children plan by themselves, while 42 percent of parents think it is for their children to decide.
“My mother is the type of parent who let me chose my own interests; when I said that I was interested in something, she would try her best to find a teacher that could help me, so I could learn more about that. She always wanted me to learn more, and have more talent.”
During the past few years, the education system in China has been slowly changing, from the “Five Formal Lesson-Steps”, which places great stress on students, to the different variety of activities developed in the intervening years. Even now, after 66 years, perhaps the China Education Bureau is still yet making its first little baby steps into the real world of student activities.