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Students put their physical skills to the test

Updated:2021-12-17 11:21:23   China Daily

Universities take action after fitness levels fall in recent years

University freshman Li Siyi was just one of the students who were not looking forward to taking an 800-meter running test on the school's playground last month.

"The whole class was silent and everyone looked as though they feared the worst. When I was at the starting line, my heart was pounding and I felt helpless and worried about the physical exertion I was about to face," she said.

Li, from Beijing Foreign Studies University, said she did not sleep well for several days before the test, which was a taboo subject in her dormitory. Even her roommate, who is extremely fit, did not want to mention it.

The main reason for the general dislike of physical education tests and exams among students is because PE is not considered an important subject at primary and secondary school, and such courses have long been overlooked in favor of academic ones, said Li, who has never liked PE.

She added that although the high school entrance exam, or zhongkao, includes a PE test, it has a significantly lower weighting than academic subjects, while the all-important national college entrance exam, or gaokao, does not include PE.

Li underwent intensive training and preparation for the zhongkao PE test in the final year of middle school, which she described as "a memory that will haunt me forever". But after she started high school, she said PE courses and tests became more of a formality, as students' academic performance was usually given top priority.

Undergraduate students in China are required to have their Body Mass Index and lung capacity checked. Male students are tested on a standing long jump, 50-meter run and pushups, while females are tested on sit-ups. Each semester, male students are tested on a 1,000-meter run, and females on an 800-meter run. Each item carries 100 points and the weighted score for all items is a student's final total.

In 2007, the Ministry of Education issued a regulation, which stated that students who failed to get 50 points out of 100 for the weighted score would not receive a diploma. In 2019, the ministry increased this requirement to 60 points.

Levels decline

College students' fitness levels have fallen in recent years.

A survey of such students age 19 to 22 conducted by the ministry in 2019 found that their scores for PE tests such as the standing long jump, 50-meter run and push-ups had fallen compared with the levels in 2014.

For example, performances in running 1,000 meters among male students declined by 12.37 seconds on average, while the performances of female students over 800 meters dropped by 9.56 seconds.

As a result, many universities have not strictly implemented the requirements, fearing a large number of students would not be able to pass the tests.

Yunnan University in Kunming, the provincial capital, made headlines recently after it announced that students who failed PE tests would not be entitled to a diploma.

According to the new rule, PE courses are compulsory for all students throughout the four years of undergraduate studies, and all undergraduate students need to complete a total of 200 PE class hours if they want to graduate. The national requirement is 144 class hours for first-and second-year undergraduate students.

Wang Zongping, dean of the Sports Institute at Yunnan University, said the new rule simply follows the long-existing Ministry of Education requirement, and exemptions are given to students with disabilities or other conditions that prevent them taking the tests.

He told Xinhua News Agency that if students fail the tests, they are allowed to retake them multiple times after making appointments with teachers.

Wang said he does not think the requirements for the tests are very high, adding that the national stipulations have been lowered five times after being revised over the years.

For example, in 1989, male students were required to run 1,000 meters in 3 minutes 55 seconds to pass the test, but in 2014, the standard was lowered to 4 min 32 sec. For female students, the threshold for the 800-meter run was lowered to 4 min 34 sec in 2014, down from 3 min 50 sec in 1989, Wang said.

He added that there is no doubt that college students' fitness levels have fallen over the years, and that by including PE tests as a basic requirement for graduation, the university showed a strong determination to urge its undergraduates to develop the habit of physical exercise during four years in college.

Xiao Mingpeng, a junior student at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that while he was unable to pass the test for the 1,000-meter run in his freshman year, he scored 70 points this semester after spending a lot of time exercising.

He said the weekly PE courses in high school were of little importance to him, as the gaokao does not include such tests.

Xiao sensed that his fitness levels had dropped significantly in high school, as he was under a great deal of academic pressure and spent little time exercising.

To improve his fitness and pass the tests after he entered university, he joined the institution's badminton, volleyball and swimming clubs.

In addition to passing the PE tests, Xiao said his weight fell by 15 kilograms after he devoted more time to PE.

Education authorities have resorted to what many observers view as the most effective approach to improve students' fitness levels-raising the importance of sports in crucial exams such as the zhongkao.

Yunnan has taken the lead by raising the total PE score required for the zhongkao from 50 points to 100. It was the first time a provincial-level region in China had given PE and the three major subjects of Chinese, mathematics and English equal importance in the exam.

Wang Dengfeng, head of the Ministry of Education's Department of Physical, Health and Arts Education, said the weighting of PE classes would be gradually increased nationwide to match those of academic subjects in the zhongkao. Research would also start on including PE scores in the gaokao.

Primary and secondary schools must provide students with one PE class a day, and universities are also encouraged to start such classes for postgraduate students, Wang said. These classes are not mandatory at present.

China provides 14 years of compulsory sports education, from the first grade to the second year of college. Despite this, many students do not learn a single sport, according to Wang.

"Many people treat PE as a less important subject and think it does not matter whether students learn it or not, or whether they excel in the subject. We must change this mentality," he said.

Zhao Yang, deputy director of Beijing Jiaotong University's PE department, said that from 2018 to last year, only about 1 percent of its undergraduates scored more than 90 points in the PE tests, which were failed by some 10 percent of candidates.

To change this situation, the university has made PE tests compulsory for undergraduate students since last year, meaning they need to pass the tests to get a diploma, Zhao said.

Scores in the tests have also been included in the students' grade point average, which determines their eligibility for scholarship awards or a recommendation by the university to pursue postgraduate studies without taking enrollment tests, he added.

Students failing the PE tests are allowed to retake them as many times as they need, and the department has launched special training courses for such candidates to help achieve a pass level, Zhao said.

Since 2017, to encourage students to be more physically active, the university requires them to run distances at least 30 times each semester. Each time, male students should run at least 2 km, while the standard for females is 1.6 km, he said.

"PE is not simply about having a healthy body. It can help students deal with mental problems and manage stress," Zhao said.

By taking part in group sports, they can learn to cooperate and compete with each other. Mastering sports skills also teaches students the importance of perseverance and helps them develop a competitive spirit, he added.

Cui Yingchun, director of the department, said that while the PE test requirements should be strictly implemented, exceptions should be made for students who show significant improvement in PE but still fail to meet the requirements.

While primary and secondary schools have long overlooked PE and made such tests less important than academic ones, this puts too much pressure on universities to make tests the overriding consideration in student evaluation, she said.

Students with really low fitness levels when they enter university should be entitled to receive a diploma as long as they put plenty of effort into fitness training and show significant improvement, she added.

Keywords:   physical skills test