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2020-09-21 09:12:10

Update: On Sept. 22, an official with the Ministry of Education said that, in addition to physical fitness playing a greater role on the national high school entrance exam, gym teachers should assign homework to ensure that students “master the skills of sports.” At the same time, assignments in academic subjects should be reduced, he said.

To improve the overall well-being of China’s children — who are often criticized for spending long hours on their phones and homework at the expense of their health — physical fitness will soon carry greater weight on the national high school entrance exam, according to the country’s top sports and education authorities.

In a joint statement Monday, the Ministry of Education and General Administration of Sport of China encouraged schools to create more sports teams and pursue new forms of athletic competition. They also vowed to ensure that schools have access to qualified physical education teachers and coaches, as well as high-quality sports and athletic facilities.

The wording of the announcement, though vague, suggests gym class should be considered part of the middle school core curriculum, rather than an elective class that can be replaced or overwritten as needed. And while the new guideline does not say how much fitness will be weighed relative to the current standard, which varies by province, it suggests the fitness component will be more than just a symbolic check mark on students’ exams moving forward.

Physical education has become a marginalized subject in China, where intense academic competition has resulted in some teachers “borrowing” the exercise period so students can continue their studies. To discourage such practices, the Ministry of Education has repeatedly emphasized the importance of gym classes at middle and high schools in recent years. Last month, authorities said gym classes should not be “replaced” by other subjects, and middle and primary school students should get at least one hour of exercise per day.

The perceived deterioration in Chinese kids’ health — as well as boys’ “manliness” — has become a major preoccupation of the central government in recent years. In September 2017, the state-run Xinhua News Agency highlighted the issue of diminished fitness by citing decades-old sports records remaining unbroken in Northeast China. A month earlier, an official media account of the People’s Liberation Army had complained that new recruits were failing their fitness tests because of too much soda, gaming, and masturbation — not necessarily in that order.

Also on Monday, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported that schools will be required to take a “census” of children’s eyesight to gauge childhood myopia rates. Another pet problem of the Chinese authorities, nearsightedness has only worsened under the pandemic, with young people spending more time indoors and glued to their screens after classes went online.

In August 2018, eight national-level departments set ambitious goals for limiting myopia rates among Chinese children and teenagers for the next several years, until 2030. To meet the targets, current myopia rates would need to improve rather than worsen — a trend that has yet to be observed.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Children throw balls during gym class at a high school in Ziyang, Sichuan province, April 16, 2020. People Visual)