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Children deserve a sporting chance

By Tang Zhe and Hu Haiyan  (China Daily)

10:13, March 13, 2013

Children find an outlet for their energy at a school in Shanghai. (Photo/China Daily)

Ensuring physical fitness for the young must be a priority, report Tang Zhe and Hu Haiyan in Beijing.

In recent years, China has demonstrated its position as one of the world's most competitive sporting powerhouses. The improvement has been signaled through success at the Olympic Games, highlighted by China's highest gold medal tally of 51 at Beijing 2008 and 38 at London 2012. However, in contrast with the nation's prowess in athletics, the overall fitness of the general public, and children in particular, has become a cause for concern.

The problem is twofold: Most of the participants of a nationwide program to promote fitness are retirees with no academic or work pressures to contend with; and the emphasis on academic excellence, coupled with the rigors of the gaokao, the nation's university entrance exam, mean that it's not unusual for schools to replace physical education classes with extra tuition or examinations.

The issue, which has attracted wide public attention, has been a hot topic at the annual sessions of national legislative and political advisory bodies.

Members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, the country's top advisory body, have suggested a range of measures.

One suggestion is that physical education should be listed as a part of the gaokao, an initiative that could be backed by policies and regulations to ensure the quality of sporting education.

The physical condition of university students has been declining for some time, according to an investigation by the Ministry of Education and General Administration of Sport in 2010, which covered 31 provinces and regions and 995 schools. The probe found that the cardiopulmonary functions of undergraduates had fallen by 10 percent since 1985, according to People's Daily.

Meanwhile, although the overall level of fitness of elementary- and middle-school students has shown signs of improvement after a 25-year decline, conditions such as obesity and myopia continue to increase within the target groups. Forty percent of elementary school students are myopic, a rise of 9 percent from 2005, while more than 80 percent of college students have the condition, which many observers attribute to overzealous attention to schoolwork and computer screens.

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