Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 9 News List

In Beijing, a school day off for smog is no fun

As smog blanketed the city for a second day on Wednesday last week, students who dreamed of leisurely breaks and trips to the mall braced for hours of drills and review sessions instead

By Javier Hernandez  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

Illustration: Mountain People

Fifteen-year-old Wu Yiling (吳亦玲) celebrated when she heard that her school was canceling classes for three days because of air pollution.

Finally, she would be able to stay up late watching her favorite South Korean soap operas and play computer games with friends, she thought.

However, at the crack of dawn on Wednesday last week, Yiling’s mother jolted her out of bed.

Her literature teacher had assigned 100 pages of reading, including an intricate Song Dynasty poem. Her mother had arranged a tutoring session with a math instructor. An English teacher had announced that there would be a six-part exam on Friday.

“I quickly learned that there’s no such thing as a day off,” said Yiling, who attends a high school in eastern Beijing. “Even when we can barely breathe outside, somehow we are supposed to do our schoolwork.”

As smog blanketed the city for a second day on Wednesday last week, reviving calls for officials to take action, millions of families grappled with the unexpected closing of schools across the city.

Parents searched frantically for day-care options. Teachers drew up impromptu lesson plans for use at home. Students who dreamed of leisurely breaks and trips to the mall braced for hours of drills and review sessions instead.

“It’s hard to be at home and doing nonstop work,” said Zhang Wei (張偉), 14, a middle-school student in central Beijing. “I wish the skies were clear and we could play outside.”

In online forums, students bemoaned the amount of work they had to complete over the three-day break.

“You may never know how badly we will be tortured by the teachers in the three days that we are home,” an unidentified student wrote in a widely circulated post on a Chinese microblogging site. “Kids in Beijing, go cry.”

Several parents and students said they were concerned that school closings would become more frequent as the severe air pollution persisted.

While Beijing has historically kept its schools open, no matter how poisonous the air is, the government last week issued a “red alert” for the first time, advising schools to close down from Tuesday through Thursday.

Factories were also shut and half of all cars were kept off the roads. However, in other cities across northern China, tens of millions of people, including schoolchildren, went about their daily routines in toxic air that was far worse than Beijing’s.

“Smog will be the norm in the future, so what are you going to do about it?” said Zhang Lili (張麗麗), 38, a university instructor in Beijing and the mother of an eight-year-old son. “Are we supposed to suspend classes whenever there is smog? Am I supposed to become a stay-at-home mother?”

As smog levels reached hazardous levels on Wednesday last week, parents hoarded face masks and bought air purifiers.

Some said it was unsustainable to have students studying at home and questioned whether it was an effective safety precaution.

“Schools and homes share the same air pollution problem,” said Chen Xiao (陳曉), 35, a translator who is the father of a nine-year-old boy. “My son can still be hurt by smog.”

The pollution had gotten so bad recently that his family was considering leaving Beijing, Chen said.

Chinese parents invest extraordinary amounts of time and money to ensure that their children succeed academically and many said they worried their children might fall behind if they were kept out of school too long.

This story has been viewed 2663 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top