China sets myopia control as new parameter for performance assessment of officials

Homework is stressful for children in China. Photo: AFP

Economic growth figure is no longer the only measurement for Chinese officials' political merits. Nowadays, they have to take students' eyesight into greater consideration in order not to be fired for not achieving a new public health requirement.

With the increasing prevalence of myopia among children and adolescents in the recent years, the Ministry of Education and the National Health Commission have released a document urging the local governments to work with schools, families and healthcare organizations to prevent the problem from getting worse.

The document, which is obtained by the, sets goals for 2030, when the myopia rate of children aged 6 must be controlled at around 3 percent while the shortsightedness rates of pupils, middle school students and high school students must be kept below 38 percent, 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

In a bid to reach the goals, the document calls on parents to cooperate with schools, which are required to substantially follow the national curriculum standards aimed at easing the homework burden on students, create a vision-friendly environment by improving teaching infrastructure like lighting facilities, enforce eye exercise twice a day and establish electronic archives in partnership with medical institutions to monitor students' eyesight changes.

The document even points the spearhead to some kindergartens, saying that teaching elementary school curriculum is forbidden at nursery schools, where children should learn things through mind-enlightening games.

In addition, overuse of electronic consumer products, lack of outdoor exercise and bad reading behavior are blamed for the deterioration of shortsightedness among children and juveniles, according to the document.

The State Council, the country's cabinet, will list efficiency in preventing and controlling myopia among students as a key indicator in its local government performance appraisal, and will prioritize easing of study pressure on students when assessing the quality of the national compulsory education, according the document.

The number of Chinese people suffering from shortsightedness has reached a whopping 450 million, with students being most vulnerable to the eye disease, show statistics from the National Health Commission.

China Central Television, the country's biggest state broadcaster, has reported that 87 percent of university students, 83 percent of senior high school students, 74 percent of middle school students and 45 percent of primary school students suffer from eyesight problems.

Extra pressure

Alleviating study pressure has long been seen by the government and health experts as an effective way to prevent and control shortsightedness among students.

In 2011, then Premier Wen Jiabao for the first time mentioned "practically easing the excessive schoolwork of the students of primary and middle schools" in his government work report, which was delivered at that year's annual legislative meeting.

The 2011 government effort developed into strengthened management on extracurricular class providers in March 2018, when Premier Li Keqiang announced in his government work report to "alleviate after-school study burden on primary and middle school students".

Following Li's directive, the education authorities rolled out new rules to standardize the extracurricular education industry, which is blamed for going against the educational rules and affecting teenagers' healthy growth.

The rules stipulate that extracurricular education providers must get a schooling permit and a business license before starting business and are forbidden to teach compulsory subject contents outside of the range of the government-approved teaching syllabus designed for primary and middle schools.

Extracurricular education providers are not allowed to organize examinations and competitions for primary and middle school students, while public schools cannot connect enrollment with academic certificates granted by extracurricular institutions, according to the rules.

A massive rectification of the problematic extracurricular education providers is set to be completed by the end of this year.

However, the rules, which aim to reduce students' extra study burden, do not work very well across the country due to many parents' obsession with after-school education, which they think can largely help their children get into famous schools which normally prefer students with better academic records.

In Beijing, it is widely believed that students receiving courses at the Shuimu Longhua Training School, an extracurricular education organization established in 2009, could have a better chance of being admitted into the High School Affiliated to Tsinghua University, even though the top Chinese university denies connection with the training organization.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Science, attributes the aggravation of students' study burden at the stage of compulsory education to the imbalanced distribution of educational resources and the different enrollment thresholds among schools, saying that it has turned compulsory education into emulatory education.

Chu suggests that setting up a multiple student evaluation system should be a good option that the government could use to actually reduce students' study stress.

Statistics released by the China Institute for Educational Finance Research under Peking University showed that 47 percent of students covered by China's basic education program received extracurricular education in 2017, with per capita educational spending amounting to 5,616 yuan. These students on average spent 5.4 hours to attend after-school classes per week, according to the statistics.

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