A viral article on the burden of helping children with their homework has shed light on the academic pressure that Chinese families face, even as policymakers pledge to reduce student workloads in the nation.
The article, titled “What Have I Done to Deserve Having to Help My Kid With Their Homework,” first appeared Monday on Chinese news website Jinri Toutiao. Interspersing popular internet memes with a satirical take on raising primary school children, the story struck a chord among social media-savvy parents. Several media outlets reposted the article on microblogging site Weibo alongside a hashtag that by Friday afternoon had been used more than 23,000 times and accumulated over 50 million views.
“I sat with my kid helping with their homework up to fifth grade,” wrote one Weibo user in response to the article. “Then I had a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital … After thinking about it, I decided that life was more important. Now when it comes to homework, I just go with the flow.”
Since 2013, China’s Ministry of Education has sought to relieve the workloads of the country’s primary school students through a policy popularly known as “happy education.” Current guidelines require schools to assume zero prior knowledge when teaching new subjects, encourage teachers to slash the number of homework assignments, forbid schools from holding remedial lessons outside class hours, and call for at least one hour of exercise per day for every child.
However, parents and educators have argued that the policy does not significantly reduce the amount of time students spend studying, but merely shifts teaching responsibility from schools to parents. Primary school students hoping to attend elite middle and high schools still face rigorous selection criteria under China’s test-based education system, which culminates in the notoriously difficult gaokao, or college entrance exam. In China’s hypercompetitive educational environment, parents turn to private tutors, extracurricular competitions, summer camps, and education consultants to give their children an edge on future applications.
In this academic pressure cooker, some parents feel compelled to guide their children through each homework assignment — an often-exasperating experience, according to many Weibo users. “My son’s just fallen asleep, and I’ve gone in to kiss his little face,” wrote one. “I regret the fact that just now when I was helping him do his homework, I felt like kicking him.”
“Before I got married, I was a perfect lady who never raised her voice,” posted another. “Now I’m constantly screaming like a banshee, and whenever it’s homework time, I shout like I’m doing the splits. My husband tells me to get up [and walk away], and five minutes later he’s even worse than I am!”
While several parents posted about homework-related stress landing them in the hospital, others described how their frustrations sometimes spilled over in more violent ways. “I’m a teacher and a mother as well,” read one such Weibo post. “I always feel that I’ve never taught a more stupid student than my son. There’s nothing for it — if I get too angry, I just have to give him a spanking.”
Additional reporting: Wang Lianzhang; editor: Jessica Levine.
(Header image: A boy yawns while doing a homework assignment in Huaian, Jiangsu province, Sept. 25, 2006. Sanzi/VCG)