INTERNATIONAL NEWS - A new rule being mulled in China to allow schoolchildren to go to bed by 10pm, even if they haven't finished their homework, has prompted heated debate about the country's education system.
Eastern Zhejiang province has published a draft guideline proposing students go to bed at a decent hour - with parents' approval - even if they still have unfinished schoolwork to do.
The time mooted is 9pm for primary school students and 10pm for middle school students.
Chinese schoolchildren have a notoriously large amount of homework, topped by a slew of extracurricular activities pushed by their parents, which can often keep them up late into the night.
The 33-point action plan, published Monday on the website of Zhejiang's education department, also advises parents to "refrain from competing with others", suggests boosting counselling support for students, and forbids extra tutoring over weekends and school vacations.
The proposal has touched a nerve in China, with some parents concerned that reducing the homework burden will put children at a disadvantage when preparing for the highly-competitive college entrance exam.
The country's education system revolves around the notorious "gaokao", which is the only route to Chinese universities. "It's better not to take exams," wrote one on the Twitter-like social media platform Weibo. "Cancel all the entrance examinations. Protect the children. Never let the children get a little tired."
"I oppose this, it will result in the children lacking a sense of responsibility from early age," wrote another.
"This is nonsense - is there any future for the country?" asked another.
The Communist Party mouthpiece, People's Daily, weighed in, saying that it was "unquestionable that very few parents want their children to bear excessive homework" but that "excellent academic performance is necessary for China's Gaokao, as well as the fiercely competitive workplace."
Other provinces are also considering similar rules to help reduce the burden on students, who often face long school days, high pressure, and a raft of after-school classes and training.
But many supported the proposal, which called for schools, after-school training institutions, parents and education authorities to help reduce the workload placed on children.
"Let children be children and be happy," wrote one on Weibo.
"People all over China know that children have a heavy burden, and they don't want their children to be so tired," said another.
Shanghai-based Li Shan says her seven-year-old daughter is often still awake at 9pm doing homework.
"I see her getting tired, rubbing her eyes, and I feel really sorry for her," she told AFP.
"I would rather my daughter spent her time playing with other children, doing sports, or sketching if she wants to. I don't want her to be a machine just doing homework."
A satirical article on social media platform WeChat went viral as the debate raged, with the writer accusing competitive parents of going overboard in pressuring their children to work hard and get top jobs.
"As the largest province in China's college entrance examination, if you look at the earth from space, you can't see the Pyramids and the Great Wall, but you can see the outline of the Jiangsu students' desks," it said.
A commentary in the state-run China Daily Thursday said that the real question was how to reform the college entrance exams so it is not the "be-all and end-all for children's future."
"Instead of addressing a symptom, comprehensive education reform is needed to treat the illness and ensure children have well-rounded childhoods, rather than just study," it said.