It may be Saturday, but six-year-old Xiao Xiao has a busy schedule of lessons to get through. She starts her day at 8.30am with a 40-minute biology lesson and only ends in the evening after half an hour of piano practice. The Beijing youngster studies the periodic table, the greenhouse effect and photosynthesis in an accelerated learning programme designed to put children on a par with university students. Xiao Xiao yawns, stretches and sometimes ignores her teacher, a postgraduate student. Often the little girl comes up with a logic all of her own, prompting her teacher to take her to task. 'Human beings love eating honey and so do bears. So human beings are bears,' the girl says. At the end of the session, her grandmother signs a class feedback report and Xiao Xiao's parents are billed 500 yuan. 'I really don't understand why her mother is glad to pay so much money for this,' the grandmother says. 'The girl speaks for most of the lesson, not the teacher.' Xiao Xiao's mother, a 33-year-old maths teacher, signed her child up for the classes after seeing a newspaper advertisement a year ago. Called the Sunrise Plan, the programme offered by Chuangcai Intelligence Potential Development claims children can be taught at university level. Company owner You Wu says each child has the potential to be a genius. 'Children's brains have unimaginable potential,' Mr You says. 'Traditional education limits children's potential by putting emphasis on just one element of a subject or skill. Our programme can bring out their full potential.' Mr You's message strikes a chord with many parents and more than 500 people in Guangzhou and 160 in Beijing signed up their children for his extracurricular programme. But it does not come cheap. The company charges between 20,000 and 138,000 yuan a year for courses including piano lessons, chemistry, physics and biology. Xiao Xiao's mother is typical of Sunrise Plan parents. She and her husband, a company financial supervisor, both have a tertiary education and lead a comfortable life in the capital. 'My colleagues criticised me for keeping the child so busy, but I don't agree,' she says. 'If [the programme] is effective, the returns will be unbelievably high.' Parents' interest in extracurricular education was aroused in 2000 thanks to the best-selling book Harvard Girl Liu Yiting, which described how an ordinary child was turned into an academic star. But Yang Dongping , from the Beijing Institute of Technology's higher education research department, has little faith in programmes like the Sunrise Plan. 'Chinese parents are ... eager for quick success,' he says. 'However, it has been widely proven that accelerated education does not work. Even if children appear to understand, they don't really know what the lessons mean and quickly forget them. 'And many parents neglect their children's psychological health. An impractical education may create a psychologically imbalanced person.' Xiao Xiao's mother admits seeing signs of such an imbalance. While her daughter's teachers have recognised her talent for painting - which she says is the result of the extracurricular lessons - Xiao Xiao objected when a classmate's drawing was praised.