‘Parent homework’

By He Keyao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/13 19:48:39

Moms and dads of young children plead for less pressure from schools on home education

Parents and their children during the entrance exam of The Elementary School Affiliated to Renmin University of China. Photo: Li Hao/GT

It is 4 pm, and Zhao Xin, in her 30s, is standing outside her son's primary school waiting for him to get out of class. Her 6-year-old son is adapting to school life and so is she,  since she has to help her son get through the all the homework he has each night. Once school is over, Zhao's work begins.

After returning home, Zhao needs to guide him with his homework, which includes learning Chinese characters, reading textbooks, practicing English as well as solving math problems. The whole process often takes several hours.

To make sure that every parent is doing their duty for home education, the teacher requires them to make audio recordings and take pictures with their children while helping them. The workload will double or triple when it comes to assignments given by extra-curricular English classes on weekends when Zhao needs to help her son practice for hours and finish his homework through a smartphone app required by the teachers.

"The whole thing consumes all my time and patience. But it is good for the kids, so we don't have any other options," said Zhao.

The voices calling out for less pressure for parents concerning home education are becoming increasingly louder. For parents of a primary school student, helping with their child's homework is a norm. The trend is growing so much that parents are now completing more of the homework than their children. According to a report by the China Youth Daily on November 2, more than 80 percent of the 2,001 interviewees said they witness or experience the pressure of "parent homework." In addition, more than 70 percent of them think the practice transfers too much of the work the school should be doing to the parents.

Metropolitan spoke with teachers and parents about the heavy workload and how it affects them and their children.

A primary student and his mother competing in a three-legged race at Huajiadi Primary School. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Transferring teaching duties  

"The thing is that parents are in a very vulnerable position compared with schools," said Cui, an engineer and father of two young kids in Beijing. "Changes should be made."

Cui's eldest son just entered secondary school two months ago, and Cui felt it was like a "prison break" to finally put an end to six years spent at one of the top primary schools in Haidian district, Beijing. 

"Around 80 percent of the homework, especially for lower-grade students, needs to be done by parents. It's not for kids at all," Cui said, adding that the assignments given by teachers are beyond the ability of a young child, and that primary school education has somehow become a competition of families' educational and economic background.

For example, the school required students to do research projects and write reports and papers in academic format and to make speeches and presentations using PowerPoint when young children can barely use the computer. Fortunately, because of their educational background and overseas academic experience, Cui and his wife managed to do their son's homework, spending a majority of their spare time and countless weekends on home education despite their heavy daily workload. The process was tiring and pointless and things could become really hard for parents who are too busy to help or have limited academic experience, according to Cui.

"Kids are too young for assignments like this, and they can learn little when their parents do the work for them," said Cui.

Moreover, the school stresses too much on "comprehensive development" and focuses on sports and art events more than basic knowledge and textbook learning, which pumps up the demand of extra-curricular classes, putting more pressure on parents' shoulders.

"They teach at a very quick pace at school to allow more time for sports and art activities, so parents need to either teach them at home or send them to extra lessons so that their child can catch up," Cui said. Helping out with their child's learning process is a daily routine for many.

"Part of the teachers' work now becomes the parents' work." said Cui. 

Kindergarten to primary school

In fact, the practice of parent homework starts in kindergarten. Zhao feels that the hardest homework assignments were given when her son was younger.

"I still remember the first 'parent assignment' was to make a toy steering wheel with my son, and he was only three then," Zhao searched every corner of their house for materials and finally made one from a pipe with the help of other family members. Her first attempt was graded as "unqualified," and Zhao had to buy toy materials and do the homework again. 

In fact, many online posts went viral recently joking about "the weirdo homework for kids," which shows the complicated homemade projects children are required to bring to school. Zhao said she believes that those posts are true.

"The kids are too young to complete the work, and they learn nothing from it," said Zhao.

For primary education, she affirmed that schools should not transfer their responsibility to the family, but the parents need to offer guidance to build up a good foundation for their kids.

She is not totally against parent homework when the kids are young, and she also wants to help her son establish good learning habits during the first and second year of primary school. However, the kids need to learn to be more independent as they get older, she said.

"I won't do as much as I do now when he gets into third grade. That's the time he needs to depend on himself," Zhao said.

However, things are much harder for families where the grandparents play the main role in home education. In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, it is quite common that parents are too busy at work, and it is often the grandparents who take care of the young children. Helping with homework is challenging for the elderly as many assignments need to be done on computers or various smartphone apps.

"I see some grandmothers who are very upset about their grandchildren's education since they can do little to help with certain subjects, say English," Zhao said, adding that some elderly in her community are trying hard to catch up with using digital devices to help the kids.

As parent homework is drawing growing criticism, many scholars and educators say that the practice is not good for a child's development. Ju Ping, a well-known children's TV program presenter and educator, is one of them.

"Too much attention and help could result in dependence on the parents," said Ju in a public lecture on November 4, stressing that home education should focus on 'parent-kid' communication and interaction, rather on helping out with assignments.

Recently, Jiangsu Province and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region have published a new school rule that forbids parent homework and called for an end to the practice of parents being required to modify kids' assignments and signing up for their work. The move earned waves of likes online. 

However, Li Hongying, a mother of a primary student, said that the so-called "relieving pressure" move will not work in the long run.

"I think it is the whole social atmosphere that pushes many parents into trying so hard on their child's education. The idea of not losing at the starting line will most likely not change," Li said, stressing that it is not the schools to blame.

Parents' own initiative

However, the burden of parent homework is, to some extent, self-generated and the practice might be misunderstood by many. Wang Jianan, a teacher at the Experimental School Affiliated to National Academy of Education Administration, stresses that the homework is set up to be completed by students, but parents are too eager to help.

"All the homework is arranged within the curriculum and it might be challenging sometimes, but it's within students' capacity," said Wang. For example, only senior students in primary school will be asked to make PowerPoint presentations, since they start to learn how to use a computer in the third grade. She added that teachers do not ask students to present "perfect" work, but only encourage them to try. However, parents take the initiative to do things for them in order to make their children's work look better.

"The practice is depriving kids of trying new things themselves, and it's not fair for other students who are without parents' help. And as time passes by, more and more parents begin to join," sighed Wang.

Flora Man, a primary school teacher in Beijing, echoes Wang and stresses that "cooperation education" between parents and schools is a trend.

"On one hand, teacher hope to enhance the teaching output by cooperating with parents; on the other hand, more and more parents are willing to take a bigger part in their child's lives, which can be increasingly reflected in the child's homework," said Man.

According to Man, many parents enjoy the time they spend doing projects with their kids. She cited an example where a student's father, who has a doctoral degree, helped his son with a project that needed to be completed at home. Together they made a perfect team, and both the father and son found the process enjoyable.

"The more educated the parents are, the more willing they are to join in on their child's education. The key is good communication between parents and teachers and not to make parents' help compulsory," said Man.


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