Zhang Min cannot relax even on weekends, for she has to rush her nine-year-old daughter to special classes.
"Almost all the kids in my daughter's class are learning Olympic math, English, or musical instruments or other skills after school," Zhang said in Beijing yesterday.
Parents like Zhang believe the more special knowledge or skills their children acquire the greater will be their chances of getting admitted to a top secondary school.
Though this is more of a social problem, such parents will get some relief once schools start following the Ministry of Education's new directive.
According to a senior official, the ministry's latest document urges primary and secondary schools across the country to ease the academic burden on students.
Education departments at all levels have been asked to strengthen supervision, too.
And hopefully, parents will no longer lament like Zhang: "We've not enjoyed a weekend in years we're under tremendous pressure ... our energy is sapped."
Steps suggested by the ministry to make life easier for students include ensuring they get enough time to sleep and rest, avoiding holding extra classes after school or during holidays, having a one-hour period for physical training every day and reducing the number of exams.
The blind emphasis on academic achievement has been plaguing the education system for years, the ministry said.
The long hours of classes held in schools in many areas leave little time for students to exercise or pursue extra-curricular activities that they like.
Students are judged only by their academic record to qualify for the make-or-break college entrance exam.
Poor management in schools, lack of qualified teachers, unequal allocation of resources and an inadequate evaluation system add to the stress of the students, the ministry said.
"These go against our principle of providing basic education," said Yu Weiyue, director of the ministry's basic education department school management.
The principle of striving to develop students' all-round abilities in areas such as morals, intelligence, physical fitness, work and aesthetics "has not changed since the founding of New China, but people seem to ignore that nowadays", Yu said.
The problem continues despite the government's efforts to ease the burden on students, said Guo Zhenyou, deputy director of Chinese Society of Education.
The load on students is not just a problem of education, but a social ill, he said. The job market and social expectations from students, combined with the education system, pose a big challenge for society.
Employers focus on the academic record of candidates, which in turn reinforces the belief that getting a seat in a good university is a ticket to a promising job.
For Chinese parents, education is still the top priority because they believe it is the only way in which their offspring can prove their abilities.
"Students' burdens will ease only when society changes its attitude toward education as a whole," Guo said.
"But we have gained some useful experience (which can) improve the quality of education so more reforms can be expected."