Chinese parents concerned with structure in government schools are starting a new but fast-growing trend in Chinese education. About 2,000 Chinese parents now teach their children at home, according to a survey of about 18,000 parents who have expressed interest in homeschooling.
More than half of the homeschooling parents told the Education Research Institute, a Beijing-based NGO, they made the choice because of the teaching philosophy in Chinese public schools. The traditional structure is extremely rigid, and depends heavily on memorization, standardized testing, and long school days.
Zhang Qiaofeng, a dad who recently started a private school to teach his son Hongwu and a few other children, told Agence France-Presse, “China’s education system has special problems. 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.”
Zhang accused the government of running kindergartens like prisons. He said the teachers at times locked the students inside so they didn’t have to watch them during recess. His son came home from kindergarten looking sad each day. According to the Wall Street Journal, the system is “notoriously stressful for students and families alike.”
Doubts about the public education system are not restricted to a few parents. According to one study by the Global Education Research Center at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, about 61 percent of Chinese companies said they were “relatively unsatisfied” with education in China. Another study showed more than 90 percent of companies wanted schools to reform.
Homeschooling is technically illegal in China—the country implemented a compulsory education law in 1986. Just a few years ago, homeschooling was an unfamiliar concept. But it is starting to gain acceptance, in part due to the influence of a popular fairy-tale author and homeschooling dad, Zheng Yuanjie.
While the public teaching philosophy is cited as a common problem, 10 percent of homeschooling parents said they made the choice because public school lessons were simply too slow paced. Another 7 percent said their kids were tired of traditional school life, and 7 percent said they did not think their kids were fully respected at school.
Homeschooling dad Xu Xuejin told Agence France-Presse, “Chinese children are taught to compete from a young age. Students who can't compete are eliminated. … There’s too much pressure on them.” Xu is a Christian, and said one reason he homeschooled was to give his children a more “Bible-centred” education than they could get in school. About 6 percent of Chinese parents said they homeschooled for religious reasons.
But homeschooling is still far from mainstream in China—these homeschool parents are 2,000 of about 1.3 billion people.
One challenge Chinese homeschool parents face is finding a support system and curriculum. “Professional guidance [for those interested in homeschooling] is severely insufficient,” said Yuan Fangyan, project director of the 21st-Century Education Research Institute. “More education resources, including textbooks and teaching methods, desperately need to be explored and developed.”
Parents are also not yet sure how the government will respond. Over 100,000 children in China attend non-government private schools already. Lao Kaisheng, an education policy researcher at Beijing Normal University, said government officials are split on the subject. He said some want to legalize home education, while some want to send children back to government schools, leading to an impasse in new regulations on the subject.