Beijing: How many students is too many in a classroom?
In Australia, where the average primary school class size is 24, parents become upset about overcrowding when numbers head towards 30.
So spare a thought for parents in the city of Leiyang, in China’s southern Hunan province, where primary school classes of more than 66 students have become widespread.
In a nation that values an only child’s education above all else, tempers boiled over at the weekend. Video of more than 600 angry parents protesting, blocking roads and massing outside the local police station went viral in China – before inevitably being blocked by government censors.
According to a statement from the Leiyang government office, mineral water bottles, bricks and firecrackers were thrown at police, resulting in injuries to 30 officers, damage to the police station and the destruction of many police cars.
Forty six protesters were arrested, with 41 later released after the incident gained national attention.
The violence was sparked when the local government decided to send all Year 5 and Year 6 students away to private boarding schools in an attempt to alleviate school overcrowding in Leiyang.
Almost 10,000 school children starting school this week were due to be sent away in order to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 66 students.
The GlobalTimes, a state owned national newspaper, reported that the children were to be sent to rural areas.
Leiyang has 740 school classes with 66 or more students, the Global Times reported online on Sunday evening. New rules put a limit of 66 per class for the start of the new Chinese school year in September. The cap will be reduced to 56 students per class in 2019.
But distressed parents posted photographs online of unfinished dormitories that they claimed reeked with chemical fumes, and were angry their children had to leave home.
According to the Leiyang government statement, on Saturday afternoon the parents gathered at six schools and the local Communist Party committee office and blocked major road intersections resulting in five people being arrested.
At 7.20pm, Li Xiangyang, deputy secretary of the local Communist Party committee, met the protesting parents face to face, but was unable to stop them marching on the police station to demand the release of the five arrested earlier.
By 10.45pm, more than 600 people had gathered outside the police station.
Local news website Red Net reported on Sunday evening that 41 people had been released from custody. Hunan government officials had issued instructions to the education department to investigate the incident and “listen to the reasonable demands of some student’s parents and study the solutions”.
“The provincial party committee and the provincial government require that the demands reflected by the masses should be carefully listened to,” Red Net reported.
The protest touched a raw nerve in China, where access to education is a priority for families. The national university entrance test, called the gaokao, is a make or break event in a young person’s life.
While protests are uncommon in China, and often result in arrests, the Communist Party is wary of how it cracks down on issues that strike a chord with the broad population.
For comparison, less than one percent of Victorian classrooms had more than 30 primary school students last year.
Sydney Morning Herald