2020 is the final year of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (the 13th FYP) period (2016-2020). On December 14, the Ministry of Education (MOE) held the fifth press conference as part of its 2020 concluding series to review the progress achieved in physical, aesthetic and labour education during this period. Wang Dengfeng, Director-General of the Department of Physical, Health and Arts Education under the MOE, and Shen Jiliang, Senior Inspector of the Bureau of Teaching Materials under the Ministry of Education, attended the conference. MOE spokesperson Xu Mei chaired the event.
Wang underlined the remarkable progress achieved in physical, aesthetic and labour education during the 2016-20 period, with “more sound policies, further teaching reforms and better teaching conditions for PE”, “quality development of aesthetic education” and “education institutions of all stripes entering a new stage of labour education”.
PE mainstreamed in talent development programs
During the 13th FYP period, the central government introduced a range of policy guidelines aimed at improving physical education. In 2016, the General Office of the State Council issued the Opinions on Strengthening PE to Promote the All-round Development of Students' Physical and Mental Health. In August 2020, under the authorization of the State Council and in conjunction with the General Administration of Sports, the Ministry of Education issued the Opinions on Deepening the Integration of PE in School Curriculum to Promote the Healthy Development of Students. In October 2020, the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the General Office of the State Council issued the Opinions on Comprehensively Strengthening and Improving Physical Education for the New Era.
According to Wang Dengfeng, these policy initiatives had completely changed people’s perception of PE, from being a marginalized subject in the curriculum, to a fundamental and indispensable component for developing well-rounded individuals equipped with moral integrity and academic excellence.
Specifically, the state has now mainstreamed PE in the education modernization assessment index, moral education programs, reforms of the existing examination system, reforms supervision and evaluation system, national fitness programs and the sports industry development plan. Consequently, PE has been fully integrated into educational reforms and economic and social development programs.
In terms of teaching reforms, the quality of physical and health education has continued to improve, with extra-curricular exercise hours increased to 1 hour in 95 per cent of schools, and an uptick in the number of PE-related activities. The PE teaching model has been progressively improved to ensure that students acquire one or more skills through physical training. Some 30,000 schools have football teams, and about 10,000 have formed basketball teams. Close to 800 pilot schools now offer training for sports events included in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.
Resources invested in PE education and training have improved substantially. PE teachers in compulsory education grew at a rate of 20,000 per year to 595,000 during the 2016-20 period. National and provincial-level teacher workforce development plans produced some 10,000 senior PE teachers and more than 100,000 outstanding junior teachers for schools in rural and remote areas. By the end of 2019, 90.22 percent and 93.54 percent of primary and secondary schools were equipped with standard sports facilities, marking a significant increase over the previous five-year period.
In terms of the evaluation system, PE has been included as a subject in the junior/senior high school entrance examinations. In the 2019 independent enrolment season, and more recently in 2020, HEIs participating in the pilot plan for strengthening basic academic disciplines, admitted students based on their academic and physical performance.
Aesthetic education phased into the talent development process
The number of arts teachers in compulsory education nationwide increased at an annual rate of 5.7 per cent, from 599,000 in 2015 to 748,000 in 2019, marking an increase of 149,000 in four years. By the end of 2019, 95.07 percent of primary schools had dedicated arts classrooms, while 96.12 percent and 93.26 percent of junior high and senior high schools were equipped with the aesthetic education facilities.
During the 13th FYP period, the MOE developed and issued a series of reform documents for schools at all levels of education, facilitating the integration of aesthetic education into the whole talent development process. Compulsory education institutions in most provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) were able to ensure that music and art courses accounted for no less than 9 per cent of the total number of class hours in accordance with the national curriculum. 93.2 per cent of senior high schools nationwide were able to offer six credits worth of required art courses. 80.7 per cent of secondary vocational schools nationwide included 72-hours of art courses in the required courses portfolio. 87.6 per cent of HEIs offered art courses for all students.
“The number of students benefiting from expanded arts education has grown substantially. Nearly 87 per cent of students received arts education in primary and secondary schools and 65 per cent signed up for arts clubs or groups,” Wang said. The 2019 National Arts Education Results show that the singing performance of 78.5 per cent of fourth graders and 77.2 per cent of eighth graders were at an intermediate level or above, while 91.5 percent of fourth graders and 65.8 per cent of eighth graders attained an intermediate level and above.
In addition, the government sponsored more than 15,000 aesthetic education events, such as performances of classical plays, expert lectures and exhibitions of art works, benefiting 10 million students in more than 2,000 universities nationwide. 1,500 schools were designated as centres for promoting traditional culture, and 106 venues were set aside in schools for the same purpose.
Transformational changes to labour education
At the conference, Shen Jiliang presented a success story of labour education: On September 11, Hai’an Senior High School in Jiangsu Province launched a “Labour Week” for all senior students. Students travelled on foot to a local farm 15km away to experience farm life. They made their own beds, did washing and cooking all by themselves and spent 5-6 hours working the fields and harvesting crops every day.
According to Shen, the MOE brought about drastic changes to labour education in three phases during the 13th FYP period.
In the first phase, extensive field investigations were conducted to identify locations suitable for labour education. A large number of provincial-level labour education centres were established across the country, and a number of schools specializing in certain aspects of labour education were selected.
In the second phase, policy guidelines were issued to offer direction and guidance. In March, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council jointly issued the Opinions on Comprehensively Strengthening Labour Education in Schools and Universities for the New Era, placing labour education in a prominent position. In July, the MOE issued the Guideline for Labour Education in Schools and Universities (for trial implementation), which clarifies what labour education is, what should be taught and how to offer it.
“We have now entered the third phase, which is the full implementation phase,” Shen said. These two policy documents have greatly facilitated efforts to flesh out implementation plans at local level. Educational departments in Hebei, Shanghai and Hubei have introduced plans for offering labour education in schools and universities, while authorities in Beijing, Tianjin and Liaoning are formulating detailed implementation opinions. Training workshops and seminars are being organized to sensitize schools on the importance of labour education. More hands-on activities are being organized to improve students’ practical skills, and related manuals are being developed to provide guidance to schools.
“There is consensus among all social sectors on the value of labour education for developing future talent. A healthy climate where students, teachers and parents actively support labour education is forming,” Shen said. A recent survey of 230,000 people conducted by the Hunan Provincial Textbook Institute shows that more than 90 per cent of respondents thought that “labour education is necessary”, and 96.6 per cent of parents supported the idea of “setting aside 30 minutes for physical work every day”. Another survey organized by the Ministry of Education also showed that more than 70 per cent of university students were willing to participate in voluntary activities to help fight the pandemic.