Seventeen years of reducing pressure for students in China

*This is the last post for the Contemporary Pedagogy class. I appreciate the skills learned in this class. Some of the methods discussed in this class are mind changing and give us the impression that learning is fun and easy. I myself had this thought that if I feel hard when I learn, then there must be something wrong with the instructor. Well, learning can be fun and easy, but not always. I write this post to remind myself and some of you who may have the same idea as mine that the easiness is not and should not be the goal of education.
When I was in middle school, a group of Japanese students visited our school and had some conversations with us. One of the students read a question from her manual, “I heard that Chinese students study very hard. How do you spend your day?” Since she asked that way, I tried my best to show how hard life is for a Chinese student. However, she looked disappointed. My life was somehow more comfortable than hers. Years later, I started to know that I was a part of a movement to reduce students’ academic pressure. The movement originated before I was born, and became an emergent order from the administration of education in the year 2000. The main idea was less course, less homework, and less exam. That movement started dramatically. I remember that in spring 2000, I did not have any homework. Then parents and schools realized that the more they followed the policy, the weaker they are in the standard graduation exam. Most schools started to act in the gray area as gray as possible to save their average score. It did not take long for the government to realize the schools’ counteract. More strict regulations and enforcement were released. There were limited innovations can be done on the school side, especially the public schools. The parents turned to private school or privately owned education institutions (companies). The household education costs kept increasing over the years although the tuition was low and still regulated by the governments.
The movement to reduce students’ academic pressure in China did not achieve its purpose. The students are still under great pressure. The reason is obvious. The life after school stays the same, if not harder. The regulations on schools hurt the middle-class families. Their kids still need to compete for the seats in colleges classrooms if they did not spend the costs on the private education institutes. The path to college for students from rural areas who could not afford the private education becomes narrower. The call for more ways for students to enter colleges was answered. Some students can bypass the Gaokao (the College Entrance Exam in China) by showing their talents in certain areas. However, those paths were taken as advantages more by students from wealthy families than by the financially poor students. Those results somehow violated most Chinese’ value of equal and fair education.
Learning, just like losing weight, is not always a pleasant experience.
The competitions are there. The learning loads do not seem to be decreasing as the society evolves. Reducing the quantity of learning is beyond the capability of most educators. I think the role of educators would be like fitness trainers, to ease the experience by showing them more scientific ways of doing it. When they do it right, they are stronger and more confident to do more. I guess that’s the value of pedagogy studies. As education researchers, we should not ignore the reasons for hard work. We should have the confidence to tell people what is need to be done instead of saying what they want to hear.