China’s top education authority has asked all schools to give students more sports-related assignments and less text-based work during summer and winter breaks this year to curb climbing myopia rates among minors.
The Ministry of Education announced the new rule as part of its Bright Action project, a five-year plan to better protect students’ eyesight by increasing outdoor activities and minimizing screen time, which have been blamed for deteriorating vision among children and adolescents.
China’s myopia rate is among the highest in the world, with over half of the country’s minors nearsighted. As many as 53.6% of China’s children and adolescents were nearsighted in 2018, according to data the country’s top health authority released last year.
Nearsightedness affected 14.5% of children under 6, as well as 36% of primary school students, 71.6% of middle school students, and 81% of high school students, the 2018 data shows.
According to Tuesday’s announcement, schools will also be barred from giving first and second graders more than one exam per semester to relieve academic burden, and each student will have an electronic file to track their eyesight over time.
The ministry has specified goals for academic institutions to keep children’s and teens’ eyesight from deteriorating. By 2030, the myopia rate for children under 6 should be below 3%, while the target ratio for high schoolers is below 70%.
A primary school teacher in Shanghai’s Pudong New Area, surnamed Cao, said a recent eye exam showed that 12 out of the 40 first graders in his class were already nearsighted.
“That’s not a low ratio, given that they’ve just started primary school,” he told Sixth Tone. “Our school is now working hard to ensure that students get sufficient time outdoors. When it’s not raining, students from all grades will run roughly 2 kilometers in the morning. There’s one sports class each day, and we take them out for a walk after their lunches.”
Parents have also shown their support for these arrangements, generally favoring more outdoor activities for their kids.
“Keeping children healthy, both physically and mentally, is a top concern for my family, especially after we read about a recent tragedy,” said a mother with two kids at Cao’s school.
But some families living in downtown areas worry that their kids don’t have this luxury at their urban schools.
“Our school has extremely limited outdoor space, so students from different grades can only take turns doing outdoor activities,” Wang Lin, a mother of a fourth grader in the city’s Huangpu District, told Sixth Tone. “At the moment, my son has three outdoor sessions each week, which is far from enough.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Students attend class at a primary school in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, 2012. An Xin/People Visual)