Education Ministry Raises Bar for Art and Sports Teaching
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2017-11-09 03:58:43

Primary and secondary schools should only hire specialist professionals to teach art and sports, China’s top education authority declared Wednesday.

The rule is one of the new measures laid out by the Ministry of Education in an effort to rein in the employment of part-time staff for these disciplines, as demand grows in China for a more well-rounded education. According to the ministry, the performance of part-time teachers has been inconsistent due to a lack of regulation.

The new measures set qualification requirements and standards for the selection and management of part-time teachers. One rule is that physical education and fine arts teachers must be professionals from outside the school, rather than internally recruited from existing academic faculty. Part-time art and sports teachers can be in charge of regular classes as well as extracurricular activities and trainings in their field.

The measures form part of the government’s push for schools to get serious about fine arts and physical education — two subjects often overlooked because they are not part of the core curriculum tested in the gaokao, China’s national college entrance exam.

“Physical and fine art education are always important only in words, not in practice,” education policy expert Xiong Bingqi told Sixth Tone on Wednesday. Xiong, who is vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, explained that students are primarily evaluated by their gaokao scores, as governments consider strong exam performance under their watch to be a political achievement. As a result, even if students fail the physical tests required for graduation, as long they do well on the gaokao, local education authorities will find a way to fudge the results of the physical.

In September, state news agency Xinhua revealed that some middle school track and field records in northeastern China have remained unbroken for up to 40 years.

“Because physical education and fine arts are not tested [on the gaokao], at our school, the two subjects are mostly taught by colleagues due to retire soon,” an English teacher at a public middle school in eastern China’s Jiangsu province told Sixth Tone. The teacher asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic.

In recent years, the government has stepped up efforts to divert focus from test scores to more comprehensive assessments, either by reforming the gaokao system or boosting support for fine arts and physical education. Yet investment into these two disciplines still falls short: A report from 2014 showed that 300,000 more physical education teachers were required for primary and secondary schools in China, while another report last year said that the country needed 40,000 more fine arts teachers. Rural areas in particular are underserviced.

In its statement on Wednesday’s new measures, the ministry said hiring part-time teachers will help relieve the shortage and improve student development in a more holistic way.

Xiong, who welcomes the measures as a positive step toward improving sports and art education in general, said the key to a more comprehensive education lies in structural reform of the gaokao and the China’s overall exam-oriented mindset.

“In a score-centered school, physical education is neglected, and often the allotted time will get eaten up by other subjects,” said Xiong. “But in a student-centered school, it is a basic requirement that every subject, as long as it is good for the student’s personal development, gets the attention it deserves.”

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: A teacher gives an art lesson at a primary school in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, Sept. 1, 2015. Wun Jin/VCG)