A recent document issued jointly by the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council, the country's Cabinet, to improve sports education in the new era, and the sports authorities' announcement that 1,000 sports parks will be built during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period indicate more importance will be accorded to sports in the next five years.
It is important to improve physical education (PE) in primary, middle and high schools, because many say the relatively low importance given to PE in schools in the past has led to some health problems among teenagers, including high rates of myopia and obesity.
Since many students and teachers underestimate the importance of PE, physical exercise classes are either reduced or scrapped in many schools. Complicating the matter further is the shortage of PE teachers and facilities in schools
Due to the exam-oriented education system, people in general regard PE and music and art classes as subsidiary courses. Many parents and children accord math, English and some other subjects high importance in school and therefore students tend to skip PE classes on the pretext of not being well.
China has published a series of documents on students' physical health, but they could not increase students' participation in PE classes. Yet by requiring a steady increase in students' PE scores in the senior high school entrance exam, or zhongkao, the recent joint document raises PE to the level of important subjects.
In fact, PE was included in zhongkao a decade ago but its percentage in the total exam score was quite low. Last year, Yunnan became the first province to give PE classes the same weight as the main subjects, and decided to raise the score from 50 to 100 in zhongkao, more than subjects such as physics, chemistry and history, from 2023.
Besides, PE is also expected to be included the college entrance exam, or gaokao, in the near future. These measures are aimed at prompting parents to pay greater attention to their children's physical health and, to improve that, ensure they take part in more physical activities, including PE classes.
But by just promoting PE in schools, including it in zhongkao and gaokao, and prompting students to take part in more physical activities, it is not possible to develop students' interests in sports, let alone turning them into ace sportspersons, because of the exam-oriented education system.
PE is a weak link in the education system, according to a 2016 State Council document, which aimed to promote physical exercises in schools. Since many students and teachers underestimate the importance of PE, physical exercise classes are either reduced or scrapped in many schools. Complicating the matter further is the shortage of PE teachers and facilities in schools.
Given that exam scores are still important, the education system faces a dilemma: the exclusion of PE from zhongkao and gaokao, or keeping the percentage of its score relatively low in the total, may further marginalize it, while the inclusion of PE will increase the already heavy burden on students. When the Ministry of Education mentioned "PE homework" should be at least two hours of exercises for students per day, many said that students may not have enough time left for studies after doing physical exercise for two hours.
So PE should serve its original purpose of cultivating students' interests in sports－and improving their physical health and sports skills－instead of being made a criterion for passing zhongkao or gaokao.
As such, PE reform should be advanced to help develop students' interest in sports, which would require more PE teachers, and build more sports teams and clubs in schools.
The author is deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS