• Aniketh Mendonca

Can India take inspiration from China’s new Physical Education reform?

In a newly released reforms, Physical Education will be made a crucial subject in Middle schools of the Chinese province of Yunnan. The new directive, will raise the value of Physical Education, bringing it at par with so-called "three major subjects" of Chinese, Mathematics and English in terms of score.

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

As per the 2018 China Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth

the Overall Physical Activity Levels in China has got a grade of F (<20%;). This show the extremely low levels of Physical Activity among schools from across 22 provinces, 4 municipalities, 5 autonomous regions, and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in mainland China.

In light of the above data, making Physical Education at par with the other major subjects is a much-needed move by the establishment in order to have a healthier and more active population in their country.

India on the other hand, seems to be moving in the opposite direction. 73.9% of India’s teenagers classified as “physically inactive’’ in a WHO report published in ‘The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health’ medical journal. With game time becoming scarce and screen time growing in teenagers, the school seems to be the only place where a child can get their share of the recommended amount of Physical Activity.

In the Draft National Education Policy 2019, it has been proposed that Physical Education teachers will be assigned to a School Complex. The School Complex is a new administrative point to be added to the education system to help in the effective administration & management of schools. While this is a commendable way of helping administration, it will certainly adversely affect the physical education in schools. A School Complex will be a ‘cluster of around 30 public schools from Foundational to Secondary stage within a contiguous geography’.

Considering that even if 5 Physical Education teachers are assigned to a school complex, that would mean a teacher gets to go to one school only once a week – assuming 6 days of school and no holidays in the week. In that one day, the teacher has to pay attention to students of a minimum of 5 classes – going up to 8 in some cases - in less than 5 hours in the school. This begs the question, are we striving for quality physical education for the masses or is it a move to show a larger number of children who are covered under the umbrella of Physical Education in schools.

In addition to the above, during the Secondary Stage of education, Physical Education will be a part of elective courses along with arts & vocational courses “so that all students can expand their horizons as they see fit and explore their individual interests and talents.” Health and Physical Education – as the subject is known in the NCERT syllabus – has crucial topics - in addition to sports - such as mental health, emotional development, first-aid, physical & psycho-social development, sexual harassment, occupational health hazards and precautions while taking medicines to name a few - in addition to sports. These topics are crucial for a child and their development. These topics are, sadly, not addressed in any of the other subjects either.

According to the National Mental Health Survey of India, around 9.8 million adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 years require active intervention for depression, substance dependence, anxiety and learning disorders – and this number only seems to be growing. Making the only subject that exposes the students to the topic of mental health - and other such topics - is a grave disservice to the students.

While the importance of subjects such as language, math and science cannot be questioned, Physical Education supports students to develop the physical, social and emotional skills which define self-confident and socially responsible citizens. Physical Education is the catalyst that can help develop the non-cognitive skills that can complement the cognitive skills of students and enable them to lead better lives.

India and China usually do not look eye to eye on a variety of issues, this seems to be one of the few instances where we need to take a leaf out of China’s playbook to ensure we too have a healthier, happier citizens that contribute to the welfare of the country.