Ye Ting was thrilled when she learnt that her daughter's school would limit the amount of homework from the start of the spring semester so that students can finish it at school, but her excitement did not last long.
"The written homework can be finished at school, but there is still reading, listening and dictation practice, as well as a review of what she has learned at school and a preview of the next day's learning, which all require parents' participation and need to be finished at home."
Like many other parents in Beijing, Ye also signed her daughter up for after-school training courses. Each week, she goes to two courses for English, one for dance and one for painting, each lasting for two hours.
As a first-grader in Beijing's Xicheng district, although the school day ends at 3 pm, her daughter goes to bed at around 10 pm on school days, as she is busy with the "spoken homework" and cram courses, Ye said.
Minister of Education Chen Baosheng said one of the ministry's main tasks this year is to limit the amount of homework for primary and secondary school students and ensure they can enjoy enough sleep for their healthy development.
Primary school students should finish their homework at school and middle school students' homework should not exceed the teaching syllabus, he said at the annual education work conference.
Lyu Yugang, director of the ministry's department of basic education, said schools should coordinate the homework to ensure it is not too difficult for students and different classes to have the same homework.
Zhou Xi, an English teacher at a middle school in Yueyang, Hunan province, said the school has strictly followed the ministry's new requirements.
Since this semester, only teachers in main subjects－Chinese, mathematics and English－can assign homework for less than half-an-hour every day, and teachers in other subjects need to ensure students can finish the homework during class, he said.
The new rule initially won the strong approval of students as few want to spend lots of time doing homework, Zhou said. However, many students started to worry that they might be left behind, so they assigned homework for themselves or went to cram schools to learn more, he said.
According to the ministry's requirements, primary school students should sleep for at least 10 hours, and schools and families should coordinate to ensure nine hours of sleep for middle school students.
However, a 2018 report based on a survey of 572,314 fourth-and eighth-grade students found that only 30 percent of fourth-graders sleep for more than 10 hours, and only 16.6 percent of eighth-grade students sleep for nine hours.
The report also found that students were under great academic pressure, with more than 50 percent of eighth-graders spending more than half an hour doing math homework and 45.5 percent doing Chinese homework for more than half an hour each day.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy head of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, said the key to ensuring enough sleep for students and reducing their academic burden is to reform the exam-oriented education system.
As long as the high school entrance exam, or zhongkao, and the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, remain the most important evaluation standard for students, they don't have other options but to study more and compete with each other academically, he said.
Zhang Xiu, the mother of a six-grader in Beijing's Fengtai district, said her daughter's school does not assign much homework to students and her daughter's school is not one of the so-called key schools.
One of her neighbors, whose daughter also went to the school, transferred her to a better school because she felt her child would be left behind, Zhang said.
As her daughter will enter middle school without taking any enrollment test, she does not feel the need to let her study too hard for the time being, she said.
"I do not want to burden her with the anxiety to achieve high scores, but sometimes I do question if I have made the right choice of not pushing her hard enough, since she still has to do so in the zhongkao and gaokao," she said. "I feel like I am simply delaying the competition."