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    Chinese Cities Set Minimum Times for Physical Activity in Schools

    The longstanding battle over physical education in Chinese schools continues as local education bureaus try to establish minimum levels of physical activity for students.
    Dec 05, 2023#sports#education

    China’s southern tech hub of Shenzhen has become the latest city to introduce guidelines for minimum levels of physical activity in schools amid concerns over students’ physical and mental health.

    Starting Jan. 1, 2024, all schools in Shenzhen providing first to ninth grade education will be required to provide one PE class every school day, while high schools will be required to offer three classes each week, the city’s education bureau announced on Dec. 1. One class usually lasts around 45 minutes.

    “At present, there is still a lack of understanding of physical education in schools in our city; the rate of good physical health among students needs to be improved,” the education bureau said, citing the increase of children with eyesight problems and “chubby” children.

    In China, physical education, music, and arts are often overlooked by parents and teachers, who place greater importance on students revising for highly competitive exams.

    The Ministry of Education has pushed for schools across the country to improve physical education in recent years, with efforts including the elevation of the importance of PE in the high school entrance exam, also known as the zhongkao.

    However, the gradual transformation of PE into an important exam subject has also turned it into just another “exam-focused” subject, thereby undermining the health benefits of PE — a “serious” problem among schools in Shenzhen, according to its education bureau’s latest announcement.

    The Shenzhen guidelines set a target of 99% of students passing the city’s annual physical health test, with 70% rated excellent, by 2025. It also requires primary and middle schools to provide students a long recess period of no less than 30 minutes each day.

    Class schedules in Chinese schools have been subject to much debate on social media in recent months, with students complaining that they are not getting enough time to have toilet breaks between classes.

    In November, a stampede at a middle school in the central Henan province caused by students rushing to the toilet between midterm exams led to one student dying and another being in a critical condition.

    On Monday, state broadcaster CCTV reported that the Ministry of Education is stepping up inspections of school recesses around the country and called for local education bureaus to better ensure intervals between classes are being respected.

    Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the China National Academy of Educational Sciences, said the measures demonstrate local education authorities’ determination to tackle issues surrounding students’ physical and mental wellbeing.

    “Whether this problem can be solved and whether these policies can be implemented depends on the actual actions taken by each school,” Chu told Sixth Tone.

    Other cities have also introduced measures to improve PE in schools. On Nov. 20, the northwestern city of Xi’an announced that all primary and middle schools must provide students with one hour of on-campus physical exercise every day, and a long recess period of no less than 30 minutes for students to do outdoor activities such as gymnastics, aerobic dance, and rope jumping.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: IC)