Tight Time After Class

June 6, 2018  Editor: Wang Yue
A student in an after-school class [Tianjin Daily]


It isn't a secret that Chinese children have a lot on their plates when it comes to class. From infancy some are being groomed for academic greatness. This effort usually includes an onslaught of after-school educational activities. The result is kids may find themselves with little to no free-time. As we investigated things and asked a number of people including local parents about the situation, it was revealed not all children are so burdened. As to the majority, there appears to be a few reasons why Chinese children have so little time after class.


Due to restrictions on buying and driving a car along with the financial costs of doing so, it simply isn't possible for the average family to always drive their child to and from school. Few schools around Tianjin seem to be offering school bus service. This means, a number of kids either get picked up and dropped off by their parents via bicycle or moped. As children grow older, they can ride themselves or use public transportation such as buses, subway and taxis to get back and forth from school. Generally speaking children's commutes take time. One high school boy living in the city but without local residency (户口hùkǒu) travels around one and half hours one way to school. This means heading out for the subway around the crack of dawn. A three-leg journey is common. The first leg is from the house to the public transportation stop, i.e. bus or subway stop. The second leg is on the bus or subway. The third leg is after getting off the bus or subway the trek to the school itself. Transportation eats up time.

Social Pressure

Social pressure is a major factor in China. Face is a huge aspect of the culture and keeping up with Joneses is a serious issue. The idea that everyone else's child is doing something, highly influences some Chinese parents. Not wanting others to see their kid as being left behind or less-advantaged, parents will work overtime to make sure their offspring is attending just as many after class activities as the next one. One Chinese parent and teacher by trade spoke against being enslaved to so-called "social expectations." He does not force his daughter to attend a never-ending list of extracurricular classes. Instead, other than a weekend art class which his daughter is personally interested in attending, her time is free.

Keeping Up

Concerns over keeping up with the curriculum is another reason some parents seem forced to pack their children's schedules with additional classes after class. One mother lamented that during daily regularly scheduled school classes the child wasn't able to learn everything necessary. The only option to keep up with academic demands was to register for self-paid, after-hour classes. This puts obvious financial pressure on the parents and physical stress on the kids. Not only do they have to attend the usual mandatory school classes during the day, do homework at night, but also find time for working with a tutor or attending a group class where core material is covered more thoroughly.

A mother who is a teacher herself and of middle-class means, mentioned all the extra classes her daughter takes each month amounts to around 2,000 RMB. Yet another mother has been paying a hefty amount over the last seven years for her daughter to attend a two and half hour English class every Saturday with a native speaker. When asked why, the mother felt English is an international language which can be used worldwide in communication with other people. Although mandatory mid-week classes provide some English instruction, she felt this was inadequate and wanted her daughter to receive further education.

Children's Desires

A child's desire is another factor. In several cases, the parent said the reason for attending after-school activities was because the child themselves wanted to attend. This is an interesting issue to consider. Namely, in China it has been observed that in some families, the children seem to be controlling the parents. In cases where a child has a particular interest, such as the girl mentioned above who likes art, the parent providing an opportunity for further study of the subject may be enjoyable if kept to a reasonable level. However, in other instances it seems the child wants to attend countless different activities, resulting in nearly every waking hour being filled with something. This turns the parents into little more than maids, slaves and taxis. Adults can be seen running around carrying backpacks and other items related to the child's activity as they transport them to and from non-essential events. The kids don't seem to think twice about the time, money and effort required to facilitate such. A mother confessed nearly all-day Saturday and Sunday is full with classes for her daughter.


Another adult male expressed an interesting view, namely he thinks children now have more spare time than in the past. Back in 1997-2000 when he attended public high school in Tianjin, mandatory classes began at 7:30 AM and didn't finish until 9:00 PM. Why? The infamous National College Entrance Exam preparation. When asked how he felt at the time with so little free time after class, a rather nonchalant response of 'didn't feel much' was provided. The reason? As he put it, everyone else was doing the same thing.

In reality, the pressure on students to succeed in academics in China is as high as ever. With globalization, children are looking to succeed both domestically and internationally. Three students working hard on their entrance application to an American university for master's degree study are pretty much eating, sleeping, and breathing preparation. Daily life is packed full of practicing English, preparing documents, and getting ready for interviews with the U.S. college administrators and the U.S. Embassy. Indeed, from infancy Chinese children are being exposed to tremendous academic pressure. The average parent and child seem to see this much like the man quoted earlier, rather nonchalantly, as though it's totally normal. The norm in China when it comes to little free time and morning till night study can be challenging to fully understand by non-natives.

A woman holding two master's degrees and currently getting her PhD works in the education industry. Here observations are quite telling. She candidly admits the average elementary school lets children out around 3:30 PM. So why are kids so tight on time? In her opinion, because of the parents. Why are parents so intent on booking up their children with after school activities? To cover the time gap between when they get off work and when the child is done with school. Another reason she cites is the intense competition surrounding educational resources, namely too many kids and too few top schools. If that wasn't enough, the icing on the cake is social pressure. As per her discussions with numerous well-educated parents, they actually admit their children shouldn't be so busy. The problem is, the perception that everyone else's child is taking those extra classes at night and on the weekend and being scared to break the mold.

The old adage of all work (or study in this case) and no play makes Jack a dull boy, comes to mind. Despite challenges with transportation, social pressure, keeping up, and children's desires, some Chinese parents, albeit it perhaps not many, are working hard to give their child a study-life balance. If one ignores the Joneses, it is quite possible for a child to get a quality education without going to extremes.


Middle school students are concentrating on the school class. [Tianjin Daily]


(Source: China Daily)

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