context: MoE sought public feedback on a 7-point plan in 2000 and a 10-point plan in 2013 for reducing the burden of studying, yet neither was formally announced. The outcome of this ‘unprecedented stringent policy’ remains uncertain as administrative measures to make primary and secondary education less burdensome or competitive were rarely effective in the past two decades.

Ministry of Education (MoE) and six agencies issued ’30 measures on reducing the burden of studying in primary and secondary schools’, directing

  • schools to
    • be compliant with core socialist values and pre-designed teaching curriculum
    • avoid
      • classroom stratification
      • class rankings
      • overuse of electronic devices
    • reduce the frequency of
      • after-class writing assignments
      • paper-delivered exams
      • academic competition
    • increase
      • after-class face-to-face tutoring
      • sports activities
      • teamwork activities
  • after-school training institutes
    • will face stricter approval and licensing rules
    • should be compliant with pre-designed curriculum
    • are not allowed to hire full-time teachers in elementary and middle schools for part-time positions
    • must close before 20:30
    • higher level schools should not take student performance at after-school training institutes into consideration for admission
  • parents should
    • use evidence-based parenting methods
    • encourage their children not to study overtime, but engage in arts and sports activities
  • regulators should
    • enhance inspection against
      • enrolment quotas
      • academic competition
      • unqualified after-school training institutes
    • increase the provision of public after-school child care services
    • reform the school admission system
    • ensure policy enforcement, transparency and publicity

Past stalemate shows that over-burdening in schools has deep-rooted social causes beyond schools and teachers, comments 21 Century Business Herald. This policy is ground-breaking as it assigns the responsibility of ensuring students have more free time to parents, regulators and after-school tutoring institutes. It also aims to address rising health concerns such as obesity, myopia and sleep disorders among teenagers by reducing student workload.

In Chinese culture learning is regarded as a vehicle to achieve personal goals and career aspirations rather than to fulfil intellectual curiosity; this forces education to focus narrowly on competition and ignore knowledge and skills transfer, critiques Chu Chaohui 储朝晖 National Institute of Educational Science.

Lu Yi 陆一 Fudan University Institute of Higher Education worries that pressure-free education will lead to a decline in academic ability and marginalisation of lower socio-economic status students, as education no longer promises upward social mobility.