China’s 200 million school children could be in for some changes in the coming months, after the release of two controversial new documents by the Ministry of Education.
For a start, school kids will be discouraged from bringing their mobiles phones to class. Some schools will ban smartphones completely.
Secondly, male students could see an increase in the number of physical education classes as part of a new programme “Preventing the Feminisation of Male Adolescents”.
The plans have generated a huge amount of debate online with many taking the view that both proposals are impractical and outmoded.
The first document on “cultivating masculinity in male students” was drafted in response to concerns in some quarters that Chinese boys are becoming “weak, timid and inferior”.
One proponent of this argument, a delegate to the CPPCC, the advisory body to the Chinese parliament, has warned that a shortage of male teachers and the predominance of “pretty boy” stars in the entertainment world could “jeopardise the survival and development of the Chinese nation”.
In response the Ministry of Education has said it “will intensify efforts to improve the quality of physical education and moderately improve the teaching methods to focus on cultivating male students’ masculinity”.
There is some overlap with the second proposal, which aims to improve health and eyesight by weaning school children off their phones.
As WiC has reported previously (see issue 423), many Chinese children have eyesight problems caused by long hours of studying, not enough time outside and too much screen time.
Levels of physical fitness are generally low, with one study from a university in Shanghai last year claiming that just three out of 10 school-age kids meet national standards for physical fitness. Some schools have tried to get round this by setting sports exams that carry the same weight as Mathematics or Chinese, in the hope that this will get students to take fitness more seriously. The central government has also been trying to reduce academic demands on students in the hope that that will leave more time for rest, play and physical activity. However parental and societal pressure is such that many families won’t allow their children to ease up on their studies.
Netizens talking about the changes were generally supportive of efforts to improve fitness in the classroom, although they weren’t as happy with the claims that young boys are becoming too ‘feminine’. News outlets also warned of the dangers in promoting gender stereotypes. “Every leaf is different, and everyone has their own temperament… Stereotypes of what men and women should be are oppressive to everyone involved,” wrote Phoenix News in a commentary.
“Masculinity does not simply mean ‘masculine behaviour’. Education is not only about cultivating ‘men’ and ‘women’, but should focus on cultivating people’s sense of responsibility. To let the body and mind grow together healthily is what deserves the most attention,” added CCTV, the state television channel.
Bans on mobile phones in the classroom – only a guideline at this stage – also drew criticism for being retrograde. “We should teach our children how to use phones sensibly, not just ban them,” argued one parent on Sina Weibo.
Teachers say that having national rules might help them enforce new restrictions. However, parents pointed out that teachers often use phones to set homework or announce exam results – something that Ministry of Education wants to see reduced. Others said they were worried about a total ban because children would have no way of contacting them in cases of emergency.
Almost 70% of Chinese school children own smartphones, according to a 2018 government study. Many schools already put limits on their usage and efforts to enforce the rules have created conflict between teachers and students. In a few cases children have committed suicide after their phones were confiscated.
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