Chinese gym classes soften up over health and safety fears

Updated 2017-01-23 15:29:32 CGTN
Photo from People's Daily Weibo account

Photo from People's Daily Weibo account

If you think of your school's gym, the first things that come to mind are likely to be the vaulting box, horizontal bars, or rock hard gym mats for doing forward rolls. These have been staples of gym classes around the world for decades, especially in China. However, some schools are considering emptying their sports halls of such equipment, citing fears over students injuring themselves and as a result making the school liable to compensation.

A Physical Education (P.E.) teacher in Beijing told the Beijing Daily that since he started his career, he has not allowed students to leap and somersault on the vaulting box, and has banned any exercise on the parallel bars over concerns that students may get injured.

"I don't know what I should say. Children, nowadays, are more prone to arm, shoulder and waist sprains and injuries," the unidentified teacher sighed, lamenting the physical health of modern children.

Despite his concerns, which are shared by many other schools, there are no regulations on incidents in gym class and how to handle compensation. Each school has its own way of resolving conflict. It is reported that schools generally pay medical fees for students who are injured in class, while some even pass the buck on to the P.E. teachers themselves, which is one major reason why basic gym equipment is left to gather dust in storage, destined to never be used again.

Gym routines involving the "horse" are now nostalgic memories harking back to the childhoods of people now in their thirties. Everyone remembers being shouted at by their P.E. teacher, as they vaulted over a box or struggled to support their body weight on the pommel horse. Gym class used to be tough, but it used to be fun, and great exercise too.

This kind of exercise has always been popular, because it trains students' physical ability and endurance, offering an important test of the youngsters' physical and mental health, said another teacher.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of obese people in China reached 640 million in 2014. Obesity has become a growing concern, especially among children.

Zhang Yongjian, a director from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that there were around 40 to 50 percent of obese elementary school students who will see a continuous gain in weight when they are adults, while 60 to 70 percent of middle school students will gain weight as they move into adulthood.

The Chinese government in 2016 made health a key policy goal. A plan called "Healthy China 2030" was approved by the State Council, launching the first long term strategic blueprint for the health sector at the national level.

Faced with the dilemma of improving the health of children amid growing apprehension over having to pay medical expenses, Li Xiang, a professor with Capital Sports Institute, said that the decline of children's physical health and their abilities to adapt to society is related to the lack of challenging sports items during P.E. classes.

"We should be aware of the fact that P.E. is related to students' integrated development," Li emphasized.

It is reported that Beijing's education and sports authorities, together with the city's Center for Disease Prevention and Control, are negotiating a system to evaluate students' sporting capacity, which would be launched next year.

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