In the first half of 2020, the Ministry of Education (the MOE), in collaboration with other competent authorities, implemented a nationwide comprehensive program to protect students’ eye health. A set of coordinated measures were taken:
1. Close collaboration with competent authorities
The MOE actively engaged with the country’s health, education and other relevant authorities to build a coordinated mechanism for the implementation of the program. There are 15 members in the mechanism, including National Health Commission, General Administration of Sport, National Healthcare Security Administration and Chinese Academy of Science. Led by the MOE, these authorities jointly identified areas of research on eye health, and conducted research in 9 provinces. They also developed policies and took concrete action to protect students’ eye health.
2. Academic burden reduction
The MOE and other 9 competent authorities jointly developed a policy to reduce the academic burden of primary and secondary school students. Schools are required to alleviate academic pressure on students and provide them with healthy and enabling learning environments. During the outbreak of COVID-19, schools were given guidance on how to provide well-organized online courses and adjust teaching strategies. For example, a very popular national learning platform for primary and secondary school students limited the time of each online course to 15-20 minutes, and students were sent break reminders via pop-up messages.
3. Early prevention
A series of preventive measures were taken to promote students’ eye health, including but not limited to : a) Encouraging the practice of green printing and using enlarged font sizes in publications; b) Creating a larger number of audio books; c) Providing eye health guidance to schools and parents.
4. Promotion of eye health through physical exercise
The General Administration of Sport developed guidelines on how to protect student eyesight through physical exercise. In the first half of this year, more than 26,600 online games and activities in 52 types of sports have been organized across the country, engaging over 111 million participants and 308 million viewers.
5. Stricter control and supervision of eye health products
Stricter quality controls for eye health-related devices and equipment were put into place. For example, the State Administration for Market Regulation launched a nationwide program to test the quality of spectacles on the market to ensure they conformed to acceptable standards. In the first half of this year, 1,400 cases relating to myopia protection products and 226 cases to intellectual property infringement were filed, and 4 product recalls were issued. On the other hand, more than 580 new contact lens products have been launched after passing strict approval processes and 12 sets of mandatory standards have been developed.
6. Internet addiction prevention
Online gaming companies were required to put a limit on the gaming time of minors. Gaming was banned from 10 pm to 8 am daily for minor gamers. On weekdays, minors can play no more than 90 minutes, while they may play for up to three hours on weekends and public holidays. The Communist Youth League of China also urged the introduction of legislation to prevent internet addiction.
7. Academic disciplines development
The MOE provided support to help relevant colleges and universities launch new medical and healthcare programs or develop the existing ones. A focus was put on majors including optometry, ophthalmology and orthoptics, healthcare service and management, and nutrition and healthcare.
8. Professional development
A series of courses were offered to students majoring in clinical medicine, public health and prevention and other relevant disciplines to enhance their eye health knowledge. Training programs were organized for personnel involved in school eye health programs. The National Health Commission also held a number of seminars and workshops to discuss topics such as the development and certification of optometry and eyeglass prescription professionals.
9. Scientific research
Under the support of the government, a number of innovative research projects were conducted to promote eye health. Research topics included adolescent myopia treatment and control solutions, wearable devices for myopia prevention, TCM-based eye drops, myopia prevention through physical exercise, and the effects of screen-based learning on myopia onset etc.
10. Adequate financial support
The central government provided a dedicated fund of 5.12 million RMB to promote myopia prevention. A total of 60.33 billion RMB subsidy was offered to primary-level public health services across the country, which was used to protect children’s eye health, including conducting eye examination. Billions of RMB was also offered to upgrade primary and secondary schools’ facilities, especially facilities for physical exercise.
11. Publicity activities
A variety of publicity activities were launched to raise public’s awareness of eye health protection. A number of articles were published which touched upon different eye health-related topics, including how to protect children’s eyes during remote learning, how to choose eye care devices, and how to prevent myopia during the outbreak of COVID-19. Online courses were offered to help parents monitor and control their children’s screen time and adjust children’s sitting posture. A series of stream live videos were jointly published by the MOE and other agencies to celebrate the World Sight Day and disseminate eye health knowledge, which attracted more than 5 million viewers.
12. Supervision and evaluation
A more effective supervision and evaluation system was set up to ensure proper implementation of eye health protection measures at educational institutions at different levels. For example, the MOE set up a standardized set of methods to evaluate preschool institutions’ effort in offering children ample opportunities to learn through play without imposing unnecessary academic burdens on them. A platform was also built to handle complaints against educational institutions or off-campus training agencies that placed too much academic pressure on students or encouraged excessive screen use.