NPC 2018: China to shrink bloated classrooms and raise quality of education, says minister

Primary school pupils wear virtual reality headsets inside a classroom in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, China, on March 14, 2018.
Primary school pupils wear virtual reality headsets inside a classroom in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, China, on March 14, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - By the end of this year, students in China will be able to better concentrate in class and receive more attention from teachers, as Beijing moves to eliminate crowded "super-sized" classes.

These classes, which have more than 66 students, will be "basically eliminated", Education Minister Chen Baosheng said on Friday (Mar 16), adding that there are 86,000 classes of this size in Chinese schools, amounting to 2.4 per cent of all classes.

The authorities also aim to make classes with more than 56 students, defined as "oversized classes", a thing of the past by 2020. Currently, about 368,000 classes - or about one in 10 of all classes - are oversized.

Mr Chen said overcrowded classes affect the physical and mental health of students as well as the quality of education, and also pose safety concerns.

"This issue is not simply a matter of how many tables to put in a classroom, how many benches, or how you arrange people," he said, adding that in the past year his ministry has made "breakthrough progress" reducing the number of oversized classes by almost 18.3 per cent.

Mr Chen was speaking at a press conference held on the sidelines of this year's National People's Congress (NPC). He also outlined plans to address the quality of rural education and reduce unnecessary burdens on students.

Improving the quality of education is a pillar of China's plans for "national rejuvenation" and seen as a key to lifting millions of Chinese out of poverty, and transform the nation into a country of innovators - two goals that President Xi Jinping has articulated.

Oversized classes are a common problem in urban areas because of a disparity in how education resources are allocated - students flock to schools in cities, causing schools there to expand class sizes.

Besides shrinking class sizes, Mr Chen said it is also necessary to improve the standard of rural boarding schools, which children of migrant workers go to.

If done well, this would "stabilise" part of the problem, he said.

He also responded to a question on how the government could reduce the burden of primary and secondary school students, a closely watched topic at this year's NPC. It was flagged by Premier Li Keqiang last week, and in a report jointly issued by four ministries last month.

Apart from reducing pressure from schools, parents and society, Mr Chen said China's exam-oriented education system needs to be reformed to reduce the emphasis on test marks. The government will forbid the ranking of students according to their test scores, he added.

"The heavy burden on students will gradually reduce," he said.

Education expert Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of 21st Century Education Research Institute, said this was a "systemic issue" in China's education system.

"People want to get higher marks so they can enter better universities," he said, adding that the solution lies in building a fairer and more equitable education system.