"Double reduction" policy adds strength to China's education reform
Beijing, 29 December (2021) - On a typical school day, 60 primary school students are learning how to make corn soup and fried pork with cauliflower at an after-school cooking class on campus. Working in groups of four or five, the little chefs take their responsibilities very seriously, and in no time at all, they are presenting delicious dishes.
The 45-minute cooking classes are organized by Xishan Primary School in Shunde, a southern Chinese city known for its exquisite Cantonese delicacies. This fall semester, the school has set up many after-school classes for students, with cooking classes being the most popular.
On Sept. 1, students at approximately 210,000 primary and middle schools across China embraced a different new semester. They were pleasantly surprised to find there are now more activity courses available after 3:30 p.m. every school day, offering them access to arts, traditional culture, and science and technology without leaving campus. They also found they don't have to bring home excessive amounts of unfinished homework, and their teachers will correct their homework face-to-face.
The changes came after Chinese authorities introduced a set of guidelines to ease the burdens of excessive homework and off-campus tutoring for students in compulsory education in July.
The "double reduction" policy aims to address the most prominent problems in compulsory education -- the excessive academic burden on primary and middle school students, and the over-heated off-campus tutoring, which also overloaded parents financially and mentally, and seriously hedged the outcomes of education reform.
Some scholars believe the policy is not only intended to foster students' well-rounded development and promote the high-quality development of education, but that it is also intended to be a major contributor to the comprehensive reform of China's compulsory education.
BOOSTING STUDENTS' WELL-ROUNDED DEVELOPMENT
After being implemented for nearly one semester, the "double reduction" policy has begun playing its due role in nurturing young generations with an all-around moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding, in addition to a hardworking spirit.
Homework assignments for students have seen significant changes, with reduced quantities and increased quality. The wild growth of off-campus tutoring institutions has been brought under control, and the full coverage of after-school services at compulsory-education schools has been basically achieved.
The proportion of students who are able to complete written assignments within the specified time increased from 46 percent before the new policy was implemented to more than 90 percent now, Ministry of Education (MOE) official Lyu Yugang said at a press conference on Dec. 21.
"With homework done at school, my child and I can read books and listen to music together in the evening, or we can go out to play badminton or skip rope," said Lu Di, the parent of a fifth-grader in northeast China's city of Qiqihar.
Offline off-campus training institutions that offer curriculum subject programs have been reduced by 83.8 percent, and online training institutions have been reduced by 84.1 percent, Lyu said, noting that over 91 percent of students now participate in after-school services on campus.
The Tsinghua University Primary School has been working for over 10 years to provide various activity classes for its students. Now there are over 70 courses available each semester, which have gained even more popularity since the implementation of the "double reduction" policy.
Dou Guimei, the school's principal, believes that efforts should also be made to boost the reform of school education, reconstructing school life to ensure education is aimed at the all-around development of students.
IMPROVING EDUCATION QUALITY
Schools and teachers have made increased efforts to ensure the easing of academic burdens does not lead to a decline in academic performance.
Zhang Jingjing is a math teacher at the No.3 Primary School in Miyun District, Beijing. Since the introduction of the "double reduction" policy, Zhang sets aside 15 minutes of each 40-minute class for students to finish their homework and take in what they learned that day.
Though their lecture time has been shortened, Zhang and her colleagues now make more detailed and comprehensive preparations before class so that they are able to meet their established teaching schedules and ensure the quality of their classes.
"Schools are paying more attention to improving classroom teaching quality, efficiency, and teaching methods," Lyu said.
East China's Shandong Province has launched a campaign to build an education system with an excellent curriculum and teacher resources, and foster a sound institutional environment within three years. And education authorities in Shanghai are planning to advance the reforms of teaching and learning methods in compulsory-education schools.
Information technology has also been adopted amid these efforts. In the Laoshan District of Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, for example, an online platform has been set up to help teachers understand how well students are grasping what they learn and to adjust teaching objectives accordingly.
As a result, 97.3 percent of 77.14 million questionnaires completed anonymously by parents said they are satisfied with the work schools are doing to reduce the burdens on students and improve the quality of education in the new semester, Lyu said.
FACILITATING EDUCATION REFORM
The balanced and high-quality development of compulsory education has been taken by all localities as one of the major measures to further implement the "double reduction" policy, Lyu said.
By the end of October, over 99 percent of schools had established a system to help students with difficulties in learning. The MOE had also leveraged online and TV learning programs to provide primary and secondary school students with high-quality curriculum resources covering all grades and disciplines free of charge.
Many cities have also taken concrete measures to improve equality in education. Beijing, for example, has promoted the rotations of principals and teachers among schools, while schools in Nanjing, the provincial capital of Jiangsu, are working to maintain classes with students of similar average learning abilities.
The implementation of the "double reduction" policy requires the advancement of the balanced development of compulsory education, the promotion of the equitable allocation of education resources, and the deepened reform of teaching methods, said Gu Mingyuan, a professor at Beijing Normal University and honorary president of the Chinese Society of Education.
The concepts of education among teachers, parents and society as a whole are undergoing positive changes, with more emphasis now placed on the well-rounded development, overall quality, and physical and mental health development of students.
Parents are changing their past behaviors of making their children study overtime and signing their children up for many off-campus tutoring classes. In a survey conducted by the China Youth Daily, over 65 percent of parents said they would no longer add the burden of extra schoolwork to their children's schedules.
About 70 percent of Chinese parents believe it is necessary to establish the parenting concept of "health first," 66 percent said they would accompany and encourage their children to participate in after-school sports activities, and 72.7 percent said their anxieties about education had eased.
Schools should strive to win the recognition and support of parents with achievements in teaching reform, and guide parents to change their old parenting mentality, said Dong Shengzu, director of the Private Education Research Institute of the Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences.
He also called for further promotion of various supporting measures to ensure the smooth implementation of the "double reduction" policy.
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