The Ministry of Education launched the Sunshine Sports program last week to promote sport in schools. The program's centerpiece is a new set of assessment standards for student health. The performance of high school students in the assessments will be linked to their chance of being admitted to university.
The program comes at a time when the health of China's young people is reported to be declining.
The step is well intended. But the education administrators may need to think again about the most effective way to ensure our kids, our young men and women engage in more sport.
Under the program, the health assessment score of students will become a factor for consideration when they try to enter senior high schools and universities.
Universities will also be required to assess the health of all first-year students. Those regions that produce more physically weak students will get lower quotas for admission to good universities.
However, in the current situation, it is absolutely impossible to conduct fair assessment, either before or after the student's entry to university.
In fact, the very concept of giving healthier students more opportunities can be controversial.
It is not that the problem of students' worsening health should be left as it is. But a more pragmatic approach must be adopted. Otherwise, the goal of improving the health of our young will not be achieved. Worse still, new problems could be created such as corruption in the assessment process.
The crux of the problem is that the students, under cut-throat competition, must devote as much of their time as possible, at and after school, to subjects that are examined for entry to high schools and universities.
They simply do not have sufficient time for sport.
After being crammed with knowledge in schools, the students also have to deal with heavy loads of homework that could keep them up well into the night.
Weekends? There are weekend schools for them to learn more so that they can win the upper hand over fellow students.
In fact, these weekend classes have become something of a regular activity for almost all children because no parents want their children to learn less than others.
The government has tried to intervene to relieve the burden on children and create more time for them to play, but it has proven difficult to change the situation because it is closely related to the rigid entrance exam system for high schools and university admissions as well as the current social environment.
It is impossible to tell students how to spend their after-school hours.
But education administrators can try to ensure there is enough time for sport during school hours. This might be a better way to deal with the problem than an inapplicable program with a grand name.
(China Daily December 27, 2006)