China’s ‘tiger mothers’ rebel against punitive homework for parents

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Fed up with picking up the slack in terms of helping her son with his heavy school workload, 39-year-old mother, Mrs Wang, has joined millions of like-minded parents who are calling for something that China’s ‘tiger mothers’ would have considered unthinkable only a few years ago – a break from homework.

The campaign focuses on the frustrations of parents who believe they shouldn’t be spending their evenings tackling arithmetic questions or reciting complex sentence structures when they could be watching a soap or reading a magazine.

It was triggered by a viral post titled: “Goodness, what have I done wrong to have to do homework with my kids.” After millions on views on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, parents flocked to social media to share their own stories.

Since then, three Chinese provinces have issued regulations banning schools from giving out homework which would involve parents.

Three years ago, Mrs Wang’s family spent their life savings to move to a desirable catchment area where they could enroll their son, now aged nine, at an elite primary school that would compel him to work long hours.

Like the majority of Chinese parents, she believed she was doing the best for her family by helping him attain the grades needed to enter a top secondary school.

But after becoming heavily involved in helping her son meet those tough demands – usually after a ten-hour day at her busy Beijing office – Ms Wang now views the school as a source of conflict in her house and a major drain on her own time.

“Sometimes all I think about when I am at work is my son’s homework,” said Mrs Wang, who only provided her surname.

Chinese social media is full of stories from parents sharing experiences of screaming and shouting their way through homework with their offspring.

One post said: “When I returned from school when I was young, my parents watched TV while I did my homework.

“Now when I get home from work… I still have to do homework.”

Other parents told how homework-related stress had caused them serious health problems or driven them to the brink of madness.
“Come homework time, the whole yard knows my howls,” one said.

Opposition from parents stunted previous attempts by the government to soften China’s notoriously high-pressure education system.

A programme dubbed ‘happy education’ was rolled out four years ago, but there was resistance to slashing levels of homework, which is said to be around three hours a day in China – twice the global average.

Consequently, the 2013 reforms resulted in teachers facing pressure from both sides. They were being told by education officials to relax academic learning, but parents were telling them to push their children harder.

The teachers responded by involving parents more in the challenging topics.

However, things didn’t go to plan.
“It has become a vicious cycle because students submitted homework that had been polished by their parents, so teachers assigned more difficult homework,” one teacher told local media.

Some parents choose to send their children to one of a growing number of expensive after-school institutions where they can finish their homework before being picked up.

But education chiefs are already fighting back against challenging workloads, with officials in the eastern Jiangsu  and Zhejiang provinces, and also the northern Ningxia province, ruling that homework should not become “parental homework” or be set “above the level of the curriculum or the ability of the student”.

Mrs Wang, meanwhile, has recently adopted a new daily regime.

When she returns home from work, she instantly kicks off her shoes, makes a cup of green tea and changes into her pyjamas.

She has decided that she won’t let her son’s academic frustrations affect the relationship she has with him, or her own work-life balance.

Additional reporting by Christine Wei

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