Students of Beijing Academy, a middle school, practice martial arts during PE class in December. (Photo/CHINA DAILY)
As awareness about children's health increases in China, Beijing is pioneering a new system of teaching and testing physical education as it strives to improve students' fitness levels.
This fall semester, seventh grade students will become the first group of students in the capital to take part in the adjusted system for middle school students.
In December, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission announced changes to physical education, which will eventually be applied during all nine years of compulsory school education.
Education authorities will add more progress assessments for PE courses to encourage children to start physical exercise at an earlier age and do it on a regular basis, Li Yi, a spokesman for the commission, said at a news conference to announce the changes.
"There will be more choices for students during their final tests," he said. "After the adjustments (to the program), it will be easier for students to get higher or even full scores during their PE tests."
According to the new assessment rules, the junior middle students will be able to choose four sports for their PE exams from a list of 22 sports including running, jumprope, standing long jump, table tennis, badminton, swimming and gymnastics. Fourteen new sports were added to the list.
"The goal is to bring physical education into the whole process of a student's development when they enter primary school," Li said.
All students will be encouraged to participate in physical education programs and their interests and individual differences will be taken into consideration to ensure the programs are fair, Li said.
Zhao Xing, a mother of two school-age children, said she is pleased swimming has been added to the program as her 5-year-old son loves the sport and can do well in his PE finals. However, she doubted her daughter would benefit from the changes as "she is not a fan of sports".
"I plan to ask my daughter to register for a certain sports course to see if she likes them or not. Maybe she will find a new hobby," she said.
Outside school campuses, many parents have enrolled their students in sports to prepare them for the new PE program.
Zhao Ensheng, manager of a sports facility for young people in Fengtai district, said he had seen a strong rise in enrollments since the regulation was announced.
"Common sports like basketball and badminton, as well as marginal sports like rhythmic gymnastics and rock climbing are all popular with students," he said during an interview with China Central Television.
Zhang Fan, father of a fifth grader who goes to school in Dongcheng district, welcomed the new measures.
"Kids spend too much time learning subjects nowadays, which has caused the obesity problems," he said. "I hope my son will have more time doing physical exercise at school."
Zhang said he was confident that school curricula will be changed to include more PE courses and after-class activities, "which will be good for their health".
Zeng Xiangquan, an employment expert at Renmin University of China, said schools should consider increasing the number of their PE teachers. If schools find it difficult to employ more full-time PE teachers, they can try to hire part-time teachers, such as retired athletes.
According to the "Blue Book of Children: Annual Report on Chinese Children's Development (2021)", jointly issued by the China National Children's Center and Social Sciences Academic Press in December, the overweight and obesity rate of primary and secondary school students increased 8.7 percentage points from 2010 to 2019.
In 2019, the overweight and obesity rate of students from primary school students was 26.2 percent, while it was 23.1 percent for junior middle school students and 21 percent among senior high school students. The overweight and obesity rate for boys was 9.7 percentage points higher than that of girls, the report said.
However, the new PE assessment rules have raised the concerns of some parents who worry that the burden of competition will become too much for the children after more sports are added to the list.
"I'm hesitating on whether I should register my son for more after-school courses such as badminton and swimming in order to help him get higher PE scores," said Dong Pingping, mother of a junior high student. "He is already fully occupied with other subjects. A new course means more money and energy need to be invested."
Li, from the education commission, said that the list of 22 sports may be altered. "The list will be adjusted according to the social economic growth, popularity of every sport, as well as the students' physical quality development," he added.