A piece by Didi Tang in today’s Times:
Chinese students are used to vast amounts of homework but one teacher set the bar just a little too high.
She asked her class of nine year olds to count out 100 million grains of rice.
The task was supposed to help the children to grasp the concept of extremely large numbers. Instead it ended up with the teacher grasping the concept of extremely angry parents.
“How would you like us to count?” one incredulous parent inquired in a text message. “One by one,” Ms Su, the teacher, replied in a group chat to parents in the southern city of Foshan.
It was then pointed out that even at reasonable speed — counting a grain a second for eight hours a day — it would take about nine years for the children to complete the homework.
When another worried parent challenged the validity of the assignment, suggesting that 100 million grains would amount to an impractical eight tonnes of rice, Ms Su responded that they must have miscalculated the weight.
She then urged parents to supervise the count at home but agreed to forgo her request that the children carry the counted rice to school. She also gave them more time to complete the work, writing: “If you don’t have time tonight, you can complete the assignment this weekend.”
News of the unusual homework spread quickly on China’s social media and was widely ridiculed. Even state media waded in, with one official calling it “a teaching accident”.
“What’s most worrying is that the maths teacher herself had no idea of the concept of 100 million when she assigned the work,” an editorial in China Youth Daily said. Others suggested that it was symptomatic of the sometimes unreasonable demands placed on Chinese pupils.
Chinese students spend nearly three hours a day on homework, almost three times the global average. They can be asked to do highly repetitive work, such as copying text several hundred times.
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