The impact of academic stress is not limited to individual psychological health, but extends to social relationships with peers and to attitudes toward authorities and society at large.
Over one-third of the children reported having psychosomatic symptoms at least once a week.
In a 2005 study by the Beijing-based China Youth and Children Research Center, researchers investigated 2,400 students of different ages in six cities and provinces.
While the central government maintained control over the purposes of education, system reforms, textbooks, and teaching guidelines, policies were implemented to shift the responsibility of funding and managing schools to lower levels of government and to open schools to market forces.
Introducing “competition mechanisms” into secondary education and promoting teachers’ and students’ “competition consciousness” became the norm.
To compete for resources, Chinese schools had to outperform other schools on average student test scores by keeping students in classes for longer, giving them lots of homework, and organising countless mock exams.
Schools rank students by their test scores and teachers by their students’ scores.
Close friends were often seen as “enemies” and “rivals” in academic competition.
For example, an 11-grade girl recalled an experience she described as common among younger adolescents in middle school: “I had a friend whose ranking position was similar to mine. When I wrote my homework, she would secretly watch what I was doing. But to be honest, when it is related to self-interest, I will hesitate and won’t be too trusting… When you know some important mathematic problems, you wonder if you should share them with your friends, and to what extent you help them.” How has this come about?
Test scores, in turn, are used to evaluate the job performances of teachers, school principals, education administrators, and local government officials.
The pressure to outperform competitors exists at each level of the education system and is passed on to the lower levels and ultimately to individual students.