Playtime a luxury for competitive Chinese kids

Mon Nov 23, 2009 10:39am EST
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By Kitty Bu and Maxim Duncan

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - All work and little play is the norm for most children in China, where stiff competition for future jobs and ambitious parents mean long hours in the company of school books, not friends.

China's one-child policy has contributed to putting enormous pressure on children to succeed, and there is no shortage of wealthy Beijing parents these days willing to stump tens of thousands of yuan for elite educational institutions to give their offspring an academic head-start.

"Children have so much pressure to do well. There is a Chinese idiom: 'Every parent wants their boy to be a dragon and daughter to be a phoenix'," said Li Hongyan, who runs the 68,000 yuan ($9,960) a year MEG Bilingual International kindergarten.

But between maths, language and other so-called enrichment classes, there is often little time for play, which children's rights groups say is essential for healthy development.

Last Friday marked Universal Children's Day, which aims to promote the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, established 20 years ago to protect the fundamental rights of all children -- including the right to play.

"This is what we usually call the 'forgotten right,' because of course adults think the right to play is perhaps a luxury. They don't realize that this is actually a necessity," said Kirsten Di Martino, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF China.

Through play, children learn how to socialize, communicate and share as well as solve conflicts -- skills that can't be taught from a book, she said.

But for parents who pour all their hopes and ambitions into just one son or daughter, and know they will face a highly competitive society, those skills may be too abstract.   Continued...

<p>Sichuan earthquake survivors play outside their temporary classroom at an Earthquake Relief Hope School in Yongxing town of Mianyang, Sichuan Province May 8, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee</p>