Chinese students opt for ‘third semester’ as competition intensifies

World Today

It’s summer vacation time in China. But for many children, it’s no holiday. China has two semesters in an academic year, but many are calling the summer break the “third semester”. CGTN’s Xu Mengqi tells us why.

Right after dinner, there is a piano lesson for seven-and-a-half-year-old Liu Yuhan. ‘Busy’ is the word to describe her summer holiday. Her weekly schedule is filled with eight extracurricular classes, including piano, calligraphy, dancing, singing, and swimming.

Liu Yuhan said she chose most of the lessons herself, and that she enjoys all of them. But for Yuhan’s mom, Wang Jing, there is another factor.

“When there is a contest or performance at school and you suddenly find that all the other kids are doing so well and your child is a complete beginner, that will make you very anxious,” Wang explained.

Every Chinese parent knows that the rat race starts early. While Yuhan may have fun trying out what she likes, her mom is well aware that she has only a year or two more to do so.

Many Chinese parents believe that the third grade of primary school is when they need to step up their child’s academic focus and studies. This means extra evening classes, weekend tutoring sessions, and yes, even summer school. These additional forms of education have all become a reality for youngsters across the nation.

And for kids in upper grades, being competitive in school is already part of their consciousness.

Zhang Siyuan, a 7th grader, said, “At school we’re ranked according to our academic performance, so there is a fair amount of pressure. Everyone is taking an after-school class so others won’t overtake them. Are there prizes for being ranked at the top of the class? No, but it’s a very pleasant feeling and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment.”

Fifth grader Xing Qianfang shares the same feeling. “Once I did very poorly on an exam and I wanted to do better, so I took a summer remedial class,” she said. “It helped me a lot and so I kept going to these extracurricular lessons.”

And it’s not only kids who are pressured to excel or to keep up. Parents feel it, too.

Cui Linmin, the mother of a 6th grader, is one of the them. “There is definitely some financial pressure, but it’s about our children. The whole point for parents to make money is for the children. Kids in other families are all taking the lessons, so we want to provide our kids the best we can, too.”

But what is best for these youngsters? No one has a sure answer. What people do know is that competition is inescapable. And to counterbalance the mostly academic pressure, Liu Yuhan’s mother says she hopes her child will develop a real interest in what she is learning now.