A proposed guideline aiming to reduce pupils' academic burden has raised debate on China's ambition to build the country into an innovation-driven country following the start of the new elementary school semester on Monday.
The guideline, which was introduced by Chinese education authorities, suggested a ban on written homework in elementary schools. Instead, it suggested organizing field trips to museums, libraries and cultural facilities, and cultivating students' hands-on capabilities through handicrafts or farm work.
The draft also suggests abandoning unified examinations for first, second and third graders. From the fourth grade up, only Chinese, mathematics and foreign language examinations would be allowed once per semester.
The guideline is expected to be released soon after revisions are made in accordance with 5,956 suggestions that the ministry received during the one-week public opinion solicitation ending on Aug. 30.
"Elementary school education is the best stage for students to develop their interests in learning and improve their integrated quality," Xin Tao, vice director with the a center for assessment of education quality under the Ministry of Education (MOE), told Xinhua.
Xin added that China's ambition to foster more talents must rely on promoting quality-oriented education and improving students' integrated quality.
However, students have long been evaluated by the National College Entrance Exam in China, and parents tend to value academic scores over levels in morality, sports and hand-on skills.
This made China's previous policies set to reduce academic burdens on school children hard to implement even though education authorities have repeatedly called for workload reduction year after year.
"Regulations dedicated to reducing students' workload all failed to function over the past five decades because of their poor implementation," said Xiong Bingqi, vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.
Meanwhile, various private training schools sprang up like mushrooms in recent years to meet the demand of Chinese parents.
"I do not feel my academic burden is too heavy," Zhang Jia, who is attending an elementary school in Beijing's Xicheng District and had extra academic classes during the past summer holiday, told Xinhua.
However, his mother explained that "I can not take the risk of cultivating my son into an innovative talent at the expense of him losing a decent job."
Experts believe that heavy academic burdens hinder students' physical and psychological health, as well as nip their interests in learning and innovation while they concentrate on finishing specific learning tasks.
Statistics showed that the prevalence rate of obesity and poor vision among elementary students in Beijing reached 20.74 percent and 62.14 percent respectively in the 2011-2012 academic year,
China's medium and long-term national plan for education reform and development (2011-2020) clearly states that academic burden on middle and elementary school students should be reduced, while elementary schools should take the lead in the drive.
Joint endeavors from education authorities, schools, parents and society are much needed in order to smoothly implement the workload reduction guideline, said Xin Tao.
"Practical reform in the educational sector should be carried out via giving more autonomy to school authorities in running schools," added Xiong.
China is committed to creating a new assessment system on basic education in order to evaluate students' quality in an all-round way, according to the MOE.