According to a recent announcement by top authorities, physical fitness may be included in the national college entrance examinations (gaokao) in the future, stirring debate.
The announcement, jointly issued by the Ministry of Education, National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Finance, and General Administration of Sport of China in October, suggests that the gaokao may be expanded to include a fitness component, and that authorities intend to give the matter serious consideration as a means of improving students' physical fitness.
During the conferences of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) held in Beijing in March, Yang Hua, a CPPCC member and headmaster at Beijing Sport University, proposed that physical fitness be included in the gaokao and given equal weighting with other subjects such as Chinese, English and mathematics, the Yangtze Evening Post reported.
The document, posted on the central government's website, has sparked controversy among the public, with some applauding the news while others are concerned that the move will usher in an unfair system.
On November 7, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily launched an online survey soliciting public opinion on the issue. As of Saturday, 2,280 netizens had responded, with 962 showing support for a fitness component, accounting for 42.2 percent, while the remainder disapproved.
Supporters of the possible measure say it would serve to call attention to and address the troubling decline in physical fitness among China's youth.
"We often hear that many young workers suddenly die while working. This is because they don't exercise enough to ensure their health. A physical fitness test on the gaokao will prompt students to build their strength," a freshman surnamed Wang from Beijing International Studies University told the Global Times.
Opponents, however, contend that such a measure will only put more pressure on students and potentially introduce unfairness to the test.
"We already have a very heavy workload and often have to do our homework well into the night. Where can we find the time to exercise?" a senior student from the No.1 Middle School of Foshan in Guangdong Province wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like site.
"Should music and painting be added to the gaokao in the future? People have different talents, so it is not fair to test physical fitness only," Xiaoxiao, a sophomore from South China University of Technology, said on his Sina Weibo.
A teacher at Beijing No.14 High School who declined to be named told the Global Times that she is not in support of the proposal because it would not fundamentally solve the problem, adding that the whole gaokao system should be changed.
Xue Jianhua, a vice dean of the testing center at Wuhan University in Hubei Province, told the Global Times that he is not optimistic about the possible changes, saying that the largest challenge lies in creating an objective scoring system.
"Those administering the test may show favoritism or be lenient in their scoring, which would affect the objectivity of test results. Meanwhile, the conditions of schools' sports facilities differ from region to region," said Xue.
Xue suggested that universities interview candidates before officially accepting them as students in order to evaluate their physical and mental health.
Shandong Province is taking the first step to explore the proposed system. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the Shandong provincial education department announced in February that candidates for the gaokao have to take a physical fitness assessment. Students' scores are to be included in their electronic records as a reference for universities.
Xiong Bingqi, an education expert with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told the Global Times that authorities are leaning toward including factors such as physical fitness and extracurricular activities into the assessment system of the gaokao, adding that possibilities should be further explored.
Xiong expressed his concern that the proposed physical fitness section of the gaokao may become tainted with bribery and corruption. He suggested that these exams be videotaped and supervised by the public, and that those found to have cheated be punished.
"I hope that Shandong's attempt will yield a good model for other provinces and help to accumulate experience in incorporating physical fitness into the gaokao," said Xiong.