China’s education reform is resulting in overworked teachers

China’s education authorities have publicly stated their desire to ease pressure on students and parents, which they call the “double reduction policy” (双减政策 shuāngjiǎnzhèngcè). The country banned for-profit tutoring in core school subjects last summer, and not long afterwards began rolling out government-funded supplemental education. But these sweeping policy changes have resulted in over-taxed teachers, and hasn’t actually lessened the expectations that parents have for their children.

Now a nationwide survey (in Chinese), released last Wednesday by the China Institute of Education and Social Development, has captured in numbers the public sentiment toward the initiative and its impact on education in China. After polling nearly 1.7 million people affected by the reforms, including 229,361 teachers and more than 1 million parents across 31 provinces, the Beijing-based think tank found that although 90% of respondents were in favor of the policy changes, there still exists a set of “difficulties and challenges.”

Among the good news for students in China, nearly 70% of parents who took the survey reported better sleep quality for their school-aged children. The survey discovered that primary school students got 9.3 hours of sleep on average on weeknights, roughly an hour more than middle school students. Roughly 83% of students surveyed said they hadn’t taken any off-campus tutoring classes since the crackdown on private education.

Because schools were required to reduce homework stress, about 82% of students said they were able to finish the majority of their assignments at school. But that doesn’t mean schoolteachers are doing less. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to the survey, 74% of teachers said they had to spend more time designing “high-quality” homework that’s more engaging and effective than before. 47% of them said they were in the classroom for more than 40 hours a week, whereas 60% of them complained about too much work outside regular school hours. More than 70% of teachers pointed out that “duties unrelated to teaching” were taking up too much of their energy, but they didn’t specify what exact responsibilities they wanted to be freed from.

When it comes to the implications of the “double reduction” policy for Chinese teachers, the report’s findings are not entirely unexpected. After the ​​reforms effectively removed private tutoring companies from the picture, the burden of after-school childcare and extracurricular learning naturally fell on parents and schools. In cities like Shanghai and Beijing, government-funded programs were established to fill the gap. On online platforms built by local officials, students are given access to free tutoring services by their teachers at school and pre-recorded videos of classes.

Although participation is not mandatory for teachers, those who join the platforms are promised financial benefits and better promotion prospects based on their performance. In Beijing, for example, teachers were told that they could earn a compensation of up to 50,000 yuan ($7,910) each semester for tutoring on those platforms.

However, the survey discovered that the financial reward didn’t materialize for everyone. About 12.7% of schools said they received no funding to properly pay for their teacher’s work in after-school programs, and nearly 20% of instructors said they never received compensation for their teaching on government-backed platforms.

And while Beijing’s education overhaul partially achieved its objective of making Chinese students work less and sleep more through regulatory reforms, it seems to have fallen short of fundamentally changing the competitive nature of China’s education system and eliminating parental anxiety over their children’s academic careers: More than half of students cited “family expectations” as the primary source of their stress. Over 90% of parents said they wanted their children to go to traditional college, with about 30% of them voicing a strong bias against career training programs despite China’s ongoing efforts to improve vocational education.

Author: Greg James, SupChina

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