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In his article titled "Third Of Chinese primary school children suffer stress, study finds" (The Telegraph, 19 January 2010), Peter Foster writes: "A third of Chinese primary school children suffer from psychological stress as a result of China's pressure-cooker schooling system and pushy parenting, a study by a leading British researcher found."
Chinese children as young as six suffer from serious stress at school, according to the international study based on the scientific survey of 9 to 12-year-olds in eastern China.
The research led by Therese Hesketh, a professor at University College London (UCL), found that one in three children questioned exhibited the "physical symptoms" typical of stress, including headaches and stomach pains.
"Stress among adolescent Chinese has been well documented after several high-profile cases of suicides by secondary school age children, but there has been little research among primary-age children," Professor Hesketh told The Telegraph.
China's one-child policy means that many children grow up with their parents and two sets of grandparents focusing exclusively on them, driving them to succeed in a nation of 1.3 bn people where gaining entry to universities, government jobs and graduate careers is highly competitive.
Not too long ago, a Chinese friend Huang had to negotiate some new work arrangements so that he has more time for his daughter. Fortunately for him, the new work arrangements --- which involved replacing night shift duties with additional hours on weekends and public holidays --- were acceptable to all parties concerned. Had it not worked out for him, Huang would have quit and looked for another position, even if it meant taking a pay cut.
The reason, he explained, was that his wife who had received hardly any education is unable to guide their daughter. The teachers in school had made repeated calls to Huang, exhorting him to coach his child who is lagging behind in her studies. She is just eight years old.
In the years ahead, the family will face even more challenges when Huang is no longer able to help his daughter with English language, a subject which he lacks proficiency in. And so, all these Chinese parents, who may themselves have limited educational opportunities, have great aspirations for their little ones now struggling to cope in the Chinese education system.
Another friend has taken to the habit of teaching her six-month-old twins to count the number of trees along the sidewalk, in Chinese and English. Just to make sure they have a head start in school, she says.
The time has come for the Chinese children to learn to laugh and take play a bit more seriously. Only then will the physical symptoms of stress go away. In the years ahead, more doors will be flung open for the millions of talented young people in China, if they would only lighten up, laugh, and play a bit more.
I will find a way to help them do this.