Chinese parents once spared little expense on tutoring for their children, hoping that the extra classes would help them to get ahead of their peers.
That became a thing of the past after the government’s crackdown on after-school tutors wiped out most of the for-profit sector last year.
More recently a different type of coaching has become more popular. Some parents are even willing to splurge as much as Rmb800 ($120) an hour for one-on-one classes.
Demand for the service is so high that parents lament that most of the instructors are fully booked at weekends already.
We are talking about skipping. Parental interest in ‘jumping a rope’ started a few years ago after the Ministry of Education added skipping as a graded sport in 2014 – alongside activities like running and swimming – for students in their high school entrance exams, known as the zhongkao in China.
Coach Qu, an instructor from Shenzhen, has been offering classes on skipping technique since 2015. But his business really took off in the last few years, when skipping ropes started to count towards exam results.
In an interview with Time Weekly, Qu claims that aspiring jumpers need to master a variety of tricks to reach the highest levels of skipping skills, including the basic (two-foot) jump, alternate foot jumps, boxer steps, as well as criss-cross.
The best skippers also need to work hard on their overall conditioning to improve performance in areas like heart function and strength.
Standards of skipping vary across different provinces around the country. For instance, in Changchun in Jilin province, 16 year-old boys sitting for the zhongkao need to skip only 65 times per minute in order to pass.
For full marks, the pace needs to be lifted to 157 times a minute.
Girls of the same age need to jump 66 times a minute to pass and go beyond 166 times a minute to get the best grade.
In Guangzhou, however, the skipping standard is set far higher, with thresholds for top marks over the last two years raised from 182 to 188 times a minute.
But Shenzhen takes the crown for the highest aerobic requirements – regardless of sex, all junior high students must be able to jump 254 times in a minute to receive full marks.
When asked why Shenzhen has a higher expectation of its students than the rest of the country, the city’s sports authority did not exactly address the main thrust of the question but explained its rationale thus: “If the standard is too low, it is too easy for students to get full marks, and it will not encourage them to improve their physical health, especially when it comes to endurance and cardiovascular function.”
Plenty of PE teachers at Chinese schools have queried whether the extra skipping classes are really necessary, however.
After all, students are only tested on the most basic two-footed jump, which most people can master pretty easily with practice.
Anxious parents beg to differ, preferring to book the extra coaching sessions for their kids. “The exam is only one aspect. Exercise doesn’t only strengthen the body, it also cultivates children’s tenacity and grit, as well as team spirit, which will be very helpful for them in the future,” one parent explained to Consumption Daily.
All in all, it puts a whole new spin on skipping school…
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