Running in your Sleep

Work or Rest?

Some people are constantly working, some are constantly resting, but most are working and resting. In China, the majority of individuals are leaning towards the former. Whether it is raining, snowing, windy or incredibly humid, projects never stop developing, workers never stop working, and students never stop studying.

School days in China are extensive and enduring. According to a survey conducted by the Chinese Youth and Children Research Center (CYCRC), on average, children in China spend 8.6 hours a day at school, with some spending 12 hours a day in the classroom. The survey also reveals that the majority of children spend longer hours at school than their parents spend at work. The survey only focused on weekdays. Nonetheless, during weekends children do not receive much free time. Many parents in big cities have signed their children for piano lessons or extracurricular English or Math classes.

Last year, I used to teach English in Beijing. I mostly taught during the weekend, since weekdays were very hectic for my students. I particularly remember one boy, his English name was John, who was quite smart. He was only 9 years old but already spoke some English and was eager to learn more. The problem was that after a hard week of school work and after doing homework on Saturday and Sunday mornings, by the time I had a chance to teach him he simply wanted our lesson to be over, so he can enjoy the few hours that were left of his weekend. I had to persuade him to study, using gifts or other forms of prizes.

As China continues to grow, the children of today are the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. China wants and aims to be a top economy in the world, and it knows that education is the key to achieve this goal. At the personal level, Chinese students have a strong desire to compete with worldwide students and reach the top level of education. Therefore, it is not surprising that a famous saying in Chinese is: “宿舍,食堂,图书馆” meaning “dorms, cafeteria, library”. It is known in China as the 3 points line, a line that every university student lives through, indicating that student life is only about sleeping, eating and studying.

However, a problem arises when the boundaries are not clear about what qualifies as an appropriate amount of study time. It may be that Chinese students of all ages are overextending themselves while going through childhood in the classroom. The survey continues to note that “Almost all of the students involved in the survey said they had to do homework, revise and prepare for classes after school. Around half of the students’ parents testified that they often don’t allow them to play outside as it means less study time.” The bitter truth for these children is that due to the “one child policy” they have no siblings ; a situation that means that even when they do have playing time, they have no one to play with. The survey reveals that “when children do have spare time for play, many children are either too tired to play or have nobody to play with — only 4 in 10 of the survey’s participants claim they had friends to play with.”

This sad truth is a consequence of a number of factors. China is racing forward and needs strong education. That explains why the country is pushing for long hours in school. But why do parents insist that their children study after school? Do they fail to see the need of their children of a play-full childhood? In the cultural revolution movement, that was implemented in China from 1966-1976, education was forbidden. That helps explain why today’s parents, who received no education, want their children to receive the best education possible, thus they put more pressure on studying.

The balance between educational success and the destruction of one’s childhood is a delicate one. China must be careful not to exhaust its youth by making it study too hard, yet to allow it to study well enough to be able to compete in the global economy. It will be fascinating to see how this balance is maintained and implemented in the next few decades.