A student displays his handiwork at No 12 Primary School in Chenzhou, Hunan province, on the first day of the new term on Wednesday. LI KE/XINHUA
Some do it on behalf of their children, even though teachers can spot difference
In a small city in China's north-eastern Liaoning province, Xu Tingting has been working on a cross-stitch for days - her daughter's fourth grade homework assignment from her primary school.
Xu said that when it comes to assignments requiring handiwork such as cross-stitch, making waste into useful products, and hand-drawn newspapers, she is usually the one who does it for her daughter.
When asked why she did not have her daughter learn to do her own homework, Xu said she wants her daughter's work to be outstanding, but her daughter is not very good at creative work.
Though the teacher did not mention anything about the kind of cross-stitch patterns the children should do, Xu wanted to outshine the other children's homework and ordered a large and rich peony cross-stitch pattern of China's national flower online, which is almost half the height of her daughter.
Spending an average of three hours every day after work, Xu has been working on the cross-stitch assignment that will be due in March.
With the start of a new semester and a time for students to submit their homework, discussion on how some winter vacation homework was too demanding for children went viral online recently.
Many parents complained that winter vacation homework during their childhood were not as difficult as it is now, and that they completed their homework on their own.
In recent years, some primary school homework tended to require multiple skills and could be too difficult for children to do themselves. Some parents choose to do their children's homework, worrying that their children would not be able to finish the homework on time or that their work may not be selected to be the best in class.
"We clearly discourage parents to do their children's homework, but it is their responsibility to assist them to complete it," said a first grade English teacher in Beijing who only gave her surname as Zhang.
Though Zhang exhibits good work by her students in class, she said she can distinguish those "perfect" ones that are clearly made by parents from those slightly less polished crafts that the children put a lot of effort in. She encourages the latter option in her class.
However, some homework is indeed too tricky for children of certain ages to complete, which has earned criticism from many netizens.
A father in Beijing was recently stuck with doing his son's primary school homework, which requires the young child to edit a relatively professional video with subtitles and dubbing, China Youth Daily reported.
Knowing that the homework was way too difficult for his son to finish on his own, as some parents do not even have such skills despite being adults, the father decided to learn how to use the editing software to grasp an idea of how to edit videos and do the homework for his son.
Others have complained that some homework is given just for the sake of giving.
Liu Dan's daughter, a fifth grade student, was given an assignment to use unwanted material she could find at home to be made into a handicraft.
When Liu realized they had no such material at home for her daughter's assignment, she went to buy beverage cans, threw away the content in the cans, and forcibly turned the cans into "recycled" material.
"The homework is to train children to be environmentally conscious, and the initial aim is for sure very positive," Liu said.
"But it can be a bit unrealistic because no one can guarantee they have enough recyclable material at hand."
Zhu Chuanshi, director of the curriculum department at the Beijing Academy of Sciences, told China Youth Daily that homework should be based on thorough consideration of reality, such as the age of the child, the parents and teaching goals.
Zhang, the first grade English teacher, also said that teachers have been trying hard to avoid assigning homework beyond the level of the students and are applying reforms to their instruction.
Though Xu will complete her daughter's cross-stitch assignment this time, she will consider letting her daughter do her own homework in the future to train her creative mind. She said the unhealthy mindset of parents to complete their children's homework is a vicious cycle.
"While many other parents in my daughter's class also do their children's homework, we parents sometimes have subconsciously become competitors to present the 'best' homework," Xu said.
Xie Jianing contributed to this story.