Ten-year-old Beijing primary school student Li Yueheng used to take at least one after-school tutored lesson in Chinese, math and English each week. But those courses were suspended this semester as a result of the central authorities' recent measures to rein in the sprawling tutoring industry for primary and middle school students.
As a result, he has been getting more sleep and has even lost some weight as he has been exercising more, said Lu Junchen, Li's mother.
He did not like the lessons and often complained about them, Lu said.
"I did not want to watch him suffer, but peer pressure and anxiety, and even the fear of missing out, had forced parents and students into an endless race with each other by taking as many tutoring courses as possible."
A central guideline issued in late July by the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, China's Cabinet, banned the approval of new curriculum-based tutoring institutions for primary and middle school students, while existing institutions were forbidden from tutoring on weekends, national holidays and during winter and summer vacations.
The guideline also required schools to reduce the amount and difficulty of homework, improve the quality of classroom instruction and offer after-school services that meet students' needs.
It is good that the extra lessons were suspended, Lu said.
"Good health and enough sleep are the most important things for primary school students, while academic performance should come second," she added.
Without the extra lessons, Li's spare time has been filled with after-school activities offered by his school.
Wang Jinli, a teacher at Beijing No 2 Experimental Primary School, said that while the school has long offered free after-school activities for students, participation has increased this semester to more than 90 percent.
The two hours of after-school activities every weekday include interest groups, clubs, physical exercise, academic tutoring and homework guidance, Wang said.
The overall feedback from students and parents has been very positive, she said. These activities have not only helped students to basically finish all their homework at school, but have also helped save their families money that was being spent on tutoring provided by private institutions, she said.
Cao Qixuan, a fifth-grade student in Beijing, said he has cut down on the number of academic tutored lessons and is now spending more time this semester on developing nonacademic skills, such as singing, basketball and coding at his school's after-school activities.
Zhang Jingli, Cao's mother, said, "He has many more resources and opportunities than I did, so I think it is important for him to have all-around development and explore interests that he is really passionate about."
Su Hui, vice-principal of Beijing No 2 Experimental Primary School, said without the tutored lessons, students can spend more time on reading and physical exercise.
Learning is a lifelong journey, and what's more important than high scores is developing the students' eagerness and learning habits, she said.
Luo Lin, vice-principal of Fengtai Experimental School Affiliated to Beijing Institute of Education, said the key to reducing students' excessive academic burden is improving the efficiency of school education and cultivating students' ability to learn independently.
Many parents try to do everything they can to prevent their children from ending up in a vocational high school, as there is a widely held belief that vocational education is inferior to academic-based education. But Luo said that the stigma is misplaced.
As the country puts more emphasis on developing vocational education, graduates from vocational schools will actually enjoy better prospects, and going to vocational schools will possibly become a popular choice, she added.