china-homeschooling-afp-670
In a photo taken on July 31, 2012 eight-year-old Zhang Hongwu reads with his father Zhang Qiaofeng during his home schooling at their apartment in Beijing. — Photo by AFP

BEIJING: Giving up his successful career as the head of a medical research firm to spend his days at home reading from children's story books was a tough choice for Chinese father Zhang Qiaofeng.

But Zhang, one of a small but growing number of Chinese parents who are turning their backs on the country's rigidly exam-oriented state-run school system, felt he had no choice.

“China's education system has special problems,” said Zhang, a wiry-looking graduate of one of the country's top universities.

“I want my son to receive a style of education which is much more participative, not just the teacher talking while students listen. Most of my son's time is set aside for following his interests, or playing.”

From a small apartment on the outskirts of Beijing, Zhang teaches his son Hongwu for four hours a day, in contrast to the six hours of compulsory classes the seven-year-old used to sit through at primary school.

In the living room where he holds most of his classes, Zhang rattles through a long list of gripes with China's education system, from what he calls its “obsession” with exam results to an overly authoritarian teaching style.

China has made impressive progress in rolling out universal education across the country, with urban areas such as Shanghai claiming a perfect school enrolment rate. The United Nations says China has a youth literacy rate of 99 per cent.

But many parents complain about the focus on rote learning and passing exams, which means that children spend long hours in class.

Chinese children spend an average of 8.6 hours a day in school, with some spending 12 hours in the classroom, according to a 2007 survey conducted by China's Youth and Children Research Center.

Lao Kaisheng, an education policy researcher at Beijing Normal University, said growing numbers of Chinese parents were demanding more of a say in how their children were educated.

“There's been a rapid rise in home schooling, especially in the past few years,” he told AFP.

“Parents who home school tend to have more strict requirements for their children's education, and feel that schools won't meet their children's individual needs.”

No official figures are available for the proportion of Chinese parents educating their children at home, but Lao estimates it at less than one percent.

One of the most prominent is Xu Xuejin, who moved from the booming eastern Chinese manufacturing hub of Zhejiang to the picturesque but sleepy southwestern town of Dali to provide a better environment for his two children.

“Chinese children are taught to compete from a young age,” Xu told AFP by phone.

“Students who can't compete are eliminated...there's too much pressure on them.”

Xu, a Christian, said he wanted to give his children a more “Bible-centred” education than they could get in school, a key motivating factor in countries such as the United States where home schooling is becoming more popular.

An Internet discussion forum he started in 2010 for Chinese home schoolers to swap classroom materials and discuss educational theory now has more than 4,000 registered members.

Worries about the legality of home schooling feature heavily on the forum — Chinese law states that children must be enrolled in school aged seven and receive compulsory education for nine years.

“Chinese educational officials are split on the subject,” said Lao.

“Some want to force children back into schools while some would prefer to legalise home schooling, which is why there haven't been any new regulations.”

But questions over the legality of home schooling have not deterred Zhang, who says he hopes his son will never return to a Chinese school.

“My son's Chinese and English skills are much higher than other children his age,” said Zhang, gesturing at a bookshelf filled with titles his young son has read.

“I plan to teach my son at home until he's ready to attend university. I hope he can attend a great university like Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge, I'm 95 per cent certain he can achieve that.”

More From This Section

India goes to polls in biggest voting day

Voters lined up in 121 constituencies across a dozen states in the largest single day of polling in the election.

India goes to polls in biggest voting day

India hosts its biggest day of voting, with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty battling to save Congress from defeat to Modi.

Fears grow for hundreds missing in S. Korea ferry capsize

A total of 375 high school students were on board, travelling with their teachers to the popular island resort of Jeju.

Modi rules out BJP’s will to revise ‘no-first-use of nukes’ policy

BJP had pledged to review India's nuclear stance, whose main pillars are no-first-use and building a minimum arsenal.


Comments are closed.
Explore: Indian elections 2014
Explore: Indian elections 2014
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
How much do you know about Indian Elections?
Poll
From The Newspaper
Tweets