2019-06-28 10:43:59

A local education bureau in eastern China’s Zhejiang province has sided with a school’s controversial new policy to exclude students with poor eyesight from its award list.

The Xihu District Education Bureau told the Btime.com news outlet Thursday that Hangzhou Sandun Primary School’s selection criteria to determine merit awards aims to raise awareness of myopia among students and parents. Under the new policy — which the primary school started earlier this year — students with visual acuity below 5.0 would not be included in its merit list.

“I think (maintaining good eyesight) is important for children’s comprehensive development, as well as their physical and mental health,” an education bureau official told the news outlet. “The school is paying attention to the importance of students’ vision, and it’s also hoping to make parents aware of the issue.”

Nearsightedness among school children is staggering in China, affecting 36% of elementary schoolers and 71.6% of middle schoolers, according to the country’s top health authority that surveyed over 1.1 million children and teenagers from 4,843 schools. The report comes months after eight national-level government departments jointly released a guideline last August aiming to reduce myopia rates among children and teens.

The primary school’s deputy headmaster, surnamed Li, told local media in a video interview that the school’s rule was mainly to educate students and parents on myopia’s alarming rates. However, he said the new guideline will only impact students whose visual acuity has deteriorated during the semester.

“If (the students’) visual acuity is 4.8 and stays the same until the end of the semester, we would recognize this, and it wouldn’t affect their evaluation,” he explained.

Following Thursday’s news reports, many netizens have called the Hangzhou school’s policy discriminatory. A hashtag related to the topic had been viewed over 180 million times by Friday afternoon, with some parents blaming the schools’ rigorous academic pressure for the growing rate of myopia among children.

“If the aim is to protect children’s eyesight, then there should be less homework assignments,” one Weibo user commented. “My kid has to spend four hours every day on homework — how can the child maintain good eyesight?”

“If it is genetic, what can you do?” another Weibo user asked. “You can’t say that those children don’t work hard or they’re not good.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A boy waits for an eye exam at a hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Feb. 18, 2019. VCG)