Gov’t Proposes Bedtimes

Our neighbor teaches in Lexington. It’s a Boston suburb. It probably has one of the highest concentrations of Asian American students. The school system is well-regarded.

Recently the teacher was told: assign no homework besides 30 minutes of pleasure reading. She was pleased. The intent is to reduce stress.

I question the wisdom of going from “low written homework” – perhaps 30 minutes for a 3rd grader – to zero.

One issue is that “Tiger Parents” will be unhappy with the policy but will simply assign more homework to their children, by paying for outside classes.

Other parents will do nothing.

This may well increase the Achievement Gap. American schools are supposed to be helping to close that gap.

There is a similar issue in China.

This article describes a proposed law with a suggested bedtime for local Chinese children. The intent is reduce stress. The result will likely create a larger gap between rich and poor, and if so, in the long run, may increase stress (of the poor).

Education authorities in Zhejiang province have proposed that children can leave their homework unfinished after a set bedtime – 9pm for primary school and 10pm for middle school students – with their parents’ agreement.

The new policy is one of 33 measures outlined in a draft directive issued by the provincial government on Monday for public consultation as part of a national initiative to ease stress on schoolchildren. Other measures include restricting after-school courses and encouraging a more diversified evaluation of student performance.

Schoolchildren have “too much homework, too many after-school classes and competitions”, but “not enough sleep, exercise or after-class activities”, the directive said.

But far from being happy with the new policy, parents are concerned their children will pay for the measure by ending up in lower quality schools. While the new rules might lessen the workload, they argue, examinations – which determine college places – remain as gruelling as ever.

“They want the children to be happy and ban them from studying hard, but will they be happy when they fail exams?” said Mr David He, the father of a grade 5 pupil in Jiaxing.

“It’s meaningless to talk about reducing the academic burden if finally academic performance still plays the essential role in school/university applications,” he said.

Under existing rules, every college chooses students based solely on their scores in the centralised, government-led gaokao, or entrance exam.

Dr Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the Beijing-based National Institute of Education Sciences, said the fundamental solution to the excessive burden on Chinese students was to reform the government-led college admission mechanism. Universities should be given the right to decide how and who to admit, he said.

“To measure students with just one standard is killing opportunities for many kids talented in various fields,” Dr Chu said.

Parents are also concerned that the proposed reforms will entrench social class.

“To reduce academic burden, stop focusing on grades and emphasise more on other skills? I think that’s what rich people created to fool the poor,” said Ms Xiao Yi, the mother of an eight-year-old boy in the provincial capital of Hangzhou.

“Without enough classes and homework from schoolteachers, those elites can teach the kids on their own or buy extra tutoring, but what about those who are neither rich nor educated?” she said. “So in a certain sense, it’s limiting opportunities for upward mobility.”