In the wake of China’s annual “Two Sessions” meetings in Beijing, the Ministry of Education has announced a slew of new regulations aimed at protecting children’s physical, mental, and political health. Several new regulations were publicly rolled out this week, touching on issues ranging from inappropriate student-teacher “relationships” to sleep, after-school tuition, and politically sensitive literature.
An article published by Anhui Daily reported tough new measures designed to erect a “firewall” between extracurricular and in-school reading materials. CDT translated an excerpt from the new instructions, which would ban students from bringing certain books to school:
The Ministry of Education recently held a press conference to announce the introduction of a “firewall” between extracurricular and in-school reading materials for primary and secondary school students. It issued the “Administrative Measures for the Admittance of Extracurricular Reading Materials for Primary and Secondary School Students,” to standardize the requirements and procedures for extracurricular reading material entering campus.
[…] The 12 types of books prohibited from entering school grounds are those which:
- Violate the Party line on principles and policies, slandering and stigmatizing Party and state leaders or heroes, or making fun of Party history, national history, or military history;
- Harm the honor and interests of the country, are anti-China, humiliating, or slanderous;
- Expose state secrets and endanger national security
- Endanger national unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity;
- Violate religious policies and promote religious teachings, doctrines, and canon;
- Have content that violates ethnic policies, incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or disrespects ethnic customs and habits;
- Propagate incorrect viewpoints such as individualism, neoliberalism, historical nihilism, etc., with an ideological tendency to admire or fawn on foreigners
- Have content featuring negative tendencies such as vulgarity, poor moral quality, unhealthy thinking, promoting supernatural power, mysticism, or superstitious belief in ghosts or god; or having value-orientation problems such as obscenity, pornography, violence, cultism, gambling, drugs, suicidal thinking, crime abetting, etc.
- Insult or slander others, or infringe on the lawful rights and interests of others
- Contain scientific errors
- IIllegally place commercial advertisements or disguise commercial advertising, and improperly use phrases such as “recommended by the Ministry of Education” and “designated by new curricular standards”
- Otherwise violate public order and righteous customs, moral standards, laws and regulations etc., causing adverse social effects
On Wednesday, SupChina’s Jiayun Feng reported on new draft regulations aimed at banning so-called “romantic relationships” between students and teachers in primary and secondary schools. While the announcement was met positively on social media, some users argued the rules didn’t go far enough:
According to Article 35 of the legislation, schools need to take “necessary measures” to prohibit adults employed by schools and other persons entering the campus from participating in acts that are harmful to students’ physical and mental health, including having romantic or sexual relationships with students, showing them pornographic content, and making sexually suggestive remarks to them.
[…] By prohibiting “romances” between teachers and students, the new draft — once passed — is supposed to make minors less susceptible to sexual abuse by adults at school, who usually use illlicit affairs as a disguise for their pedophilia and predatory tendencies. And for that reason, the draft has been met with a groundswell of support on Chinese social media.
[…] Despite the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the draft, some critics raised questions about its wording, saying that even when a minor student voluntarily enters into a love affair with his or her teacher, consent is disregarded by law and the teacher should be deemed to have committed child abuse as a criminal offense. They argued that by labeling those affairs as “romantic relationships” (恋爱关系 liànàiguānxi), the regulation made creepy teachers’ offenses seem less severe than they actually were. “Teachers who have inappropriate relationships with minor students are pedophiles. Stop beating around the bush and start calling them out for what they are!” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). [Source]
Inappropriate relationships between school officials and students have been the cause of significant public outcries over the years. Recently, feminist activist Xiao Meili described one such case from 2013, when six primary school-aged girls disappeared in Hainan, only to later be found with their school principal at a hotel. That case was part of the impetus for her marathon protest walk from Beijing to Guangzhou that year.
Improving formal sex education in school was a popular issue in the run up to this year’s Two Sessions. For Sixth Tone last month, Cui Le wrote about the need to improve the way sex education is taught in China’s schools:
The rules about what can and can’t be said in sex education are reflected in Girls’ Protection’s own teaching plans and demo classes. These contain no description of sexual anatomy, such as the penis, breasts, or vagina; no mention of sexual acts like vaginal penetration; and certainly no discussion of sexual orientation. For example, in teaching students about anatomy, the teacher is told to lead the class in pointing out the ears, nose, legs, and other parts of the human body. But when they reach the sex organs, the teacher is to show a picture of a boy and a girl, dressed in blue and pink underwear, respectively. […]
Naturally, there’s also no introduction to sexual activity. Children are instead taught to protect themselves from having their private parts touched and how to deal with “bad people.” The consequences of not protecting against these “bad people” include being “abducted, kidnapped, drugged, and killed.” By the end of the course, the students likely won’t understand much about sex, but they will have a solid education in the dangers lurking out there in the world.
[…] If discussions of sex are silenced in sex education, or if sex education curricula unwittingly reproduce gender and sexual inequality, then what’s the point? [Source]
Last week, the Ministry of Education also announced rules to protect children’s sleep by limiting the operating hours of online education and gaming services. Reuters’ reported on those new rules:
In a statement on the ministry’s website, it said that online education companies should not offer minors live-streamed courses after 9 pm.
The ministry also said that companies should not provide minors with online gaming services between 10pm and 8am.
“Sleeping is essential to promote brain development, bone growth, vision protection, physical and mental health, and improve learning ability and efficiency of primary and secondary school students,” it said.
Investors have increased their bets on China’s online education sector, which has attracted growing interest after the coronavirus outbreak prompted a widespread switch to remote learning. [Source]
The regulations have potentially significant implications for China’s after-school education industry, which has boomed in recent years. Last month, South China Morning Post’s Yujie Xue and Tracy Qu reported on plans to tighten regulation of the “chaotic” K-12 off-campus education market, linking the move to China’s recent push for big tech regulation:
President Xi Jinping described the domestic market for K-12 – referring to kindergarten to 12th grade – after-school training services as a “social problem” in a meeting last week of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
[…] While it remains unclear exactly how regulations are going to be rolled out, the message from the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, indicated that off-campus training services are “chaotic” and create problems for the country’s education sector. Typically, primary school pupils take extracurricular tutoring on top of their studies on campus to perform well in examinations.
[…] The prospects of tightened regulation could bring uncertainty to the market and the plans of Chinese Big Tech companies to expand operations in the education sector. Tech unicorn ByteDance, owner of short video-sharing apps TikTok and Douyin, recently announced its intention to recruit some 13,000 new employees for its growing Dali education business.
[…] Problems associated with China’s K-12 off-campus education services market include unqualified teachers as well as fly-by-night providers. Private tutoring company Yousheng Education, for example, closed last year and was unable to refund paid-in tuition, which led to rare street protests in Beijing. [Source]
But the massive popularity of off-campus education centers is likely a symptom of a bigger problem related to the intense academic pressure faced by Chinese students. This week, Caixin’s Ding Jie, Huang Huizhao, and Denise Jia reported an in-depth piece about the sources of pressure on China’s schoolchildren:
A recent survey of 4,000 parents by the state-backed newspaper China Education Paper found that 92% enroll their children in extracurricular classes and that half of families spent more than 10,000 yuan ($1,500) each year on such classes. (The names of parents including Guo and the heads of tutoring companies were changed for this article at their request.)
The term often used to describe this situation in China’s education is “neijuan,” or involution, which literally means “inside rolling,” a process of incessant competition from which no one benefits. Chinese parents feel intense pressure to provide the best resources to their children, who in turn must work extra hard to keep up in an educational rat race.
[…] The involution problem is most acute in Beijing and Shanghai, where high-quality educational resources are most concentrated and where the after-school tutoring business is booming. Behind involution are shortages of school spaces and teachers and mismatches between high-quality educational resources and market demand.
[…] In China, living close to a school is often a prerequisite to a child’s enrollment. It has led to the prices of homes skyrocketing in neighborhoods surrounding the best schools. In Beijing, an old condo close to the best schools could be sold for as much as 170,000 yuan ($26,000) per square meter, compared with the city’s overall average housing price of about 60,000 yuan, according to real estate information platform Anjuke.com. [Source]
Chinese internet users have in recent months also criticized a controversial initiative by the Ministry of Education to institute more gym classes to prevent the “feminization” of boys.