University's stress on fitness welcome
|ZHAI HAIJUN/CHINA DAILY|
Tsinghua University recently announced that starting from this year its students will not get certificates after graduation unless they know how to swim. After Tsinghua's decision, some media outlets reported that Xi'an Jiaotong University in Northwest China's Shaanxi province has for nearly two decades required its undergraduate students to learn and practice tai chi.
Given that Chinese universities are not known to link sports to their courses, the regulations of Tsinghua and Xi'an Jiaotong universities seem out of place. This becomes even more obvious when one considers the fact that the two are century-old and prestigious universities whose regulations and courses draw wide public attention.
But a closer look at the two universities' decisions shows their decisions should not have sparked a controversy. Anyone acquainted with Tsinghua University's curriculums knows physical education, like other professional courses, includes compulsory and selective courses, which students have to pass to be eligible for graduation. In fact, such regulations are normal in any university or college in China.
The university's regulation is reasonable for several reasons. First, the Tsinghua University campus has excellent swimming facilities where students have access to basic as well as high-quality swimming courses, and thus can practice or learn swimming.
Second, the university's regulation does not require every student to be an ace swimmer; it only requires the students to attain basic swimming skills. Given that many Chinese children now learn swimming at a very young age, it should not be difficult for them to fulfill the university's requirement. Besides, students who don't know how to swim, especially those from China's dry northern regions, can learn swimming under the guidance of coaches before or after attending their academic classes. And students who cannot learn swimming for various reasons can sign up for other sports or physical education courses.
Third, swimming is a cardiovascular exercise that builds muscle strength and endurance. And since Tsinghua University has modern swimming facilities, it is justified in helping the students to practice swimming and remain physically fit.
Xi'an Jiaotong University, just like Tsinghua University's requirements for swimming, does not require every student to be a highly skilled tai chi practitioner. Instead, it only requires students to know some basic tai chi exercises and keep practicing them.
One reason the decisions of Tsinghua and Xi'an Jiaotong universities have caused a controversy is that physical education has long been a marginalized field in China. Even though physical education is a compulsory course in many universities, authorities usually don't attach much importance to it. That's why physical education teachers, more often than not, cannot set strict teaching requirements.
This marginalization of physical education has led to a decline in students' physical health and their reluctance to play sport. In this context, the regulations of Tsinghua and Xi'an Jiaotong universities will help students to maintain physical fitness to a certain degree.
Universities should be open to social supervision, but they should have the autonomy to manage their affairs, pass regulations and set their curriculums free of outside interventions.
The author is a professor with College of Liberal Arts, Journalism and Communication, Ocean University of China. This article first appeared in Beijing News.