Summer sports camps are ideal for stressed Shanghai students
In most Western societies, summer school is a kind of punishment for naughty students who failed to make the grade during the school year. Well-behaved Caucasian kids are rewarded with summer camp in the woods, while the dumb ones are stuck in a campus bungalow repeating their lessons. The 1987 comedy movie Summer School perfectly sums up the experience.
Meanwhile in China, where Western-style summer camps do not exist due to the absence of camping culture, summer school is a fact of life for most Chinese children starting at kindergarten. Private training centers and some local public schools hold back-to-back classes designed to keep kids preoccupied between July and September. Their parents, busy with work and desiring an academically competitive edge for their child, pay the fees.
As a foreign expat in Shanghai, I sympathize with all the Chinese kids I see being dragged to all-day language centers in the middle of summer. I’ve often been recruited to teach English at these so-called “summer camps.” I used to think it meant going camping in a tent in Moganshan with a bunch of kids, which would be fun; now I know better – it means being stuck in a hot classroom for two months!
Their Western counterparts, at this exact same moment, are either out swimming at the neighborhood pool with their friends or camping with their family in the woods. No wonder a growing number of Chinese students are applying to overseas schools: they probably do it just for the summer vacations!
But this is changing. According to a recent article in Jiefang Daily, sports training classes are becoming more popular among urban Chinese parents, who are realizing that their children need some fun under the sun after a year of intense studies.
The article said that tennis, swimming and soccer are among the most popular classes, as they enhance not only children’s physical abilities but also their confidencebuilding and teamwork capabilities. In this era of spoiled, soft “little emperors,” that’s what they need.
The Global Times reported that China now has the largest overweight population in the world – home to around 43 million obese men and 46 million obese women, accounting for 16 percent and 12 percent of obese men and women in the world – bumping the US to second, according to Lancet Medical Journal.
For children and teens, the numbers are higher: the World Food Program noted that 23 percent of all Chinese boys and 14 percent of all Chinese girls under 20 are overweight or obese, the Guardian reported in January, 2017.
The reason for this, most people would agree, is that the average Chinese child today is sitting on their butt all day studying; any leisure time they might have is spent playing computer games. This self-isolation is exactly why so many Chinese youth are quite bad at teamwork or getting along with others. Competitive team sports like soccer are the perfect remedy for this problem.
In 2015, China’s central reform group, chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping, approved a plan to boost the level of football throughout the country. The measures included establishing 50,000 football schools within 10 years and making the game a compulsory course at school, according to the Global Times. District youth centers, afterschool sports leagues and summer camps are also emphasizing soccer.
But sports camps are not cheap. One elite international “activities club” for children aged 3-12 with branches all over Shanghai charges 3,500 yuan ($522) per week for full-day camps. Many local families simply cannot afford 28,000 yuan for an entire summer.
Nor is dropping that kind of cash on a sports camp necessary. Just take a look around – Shanghai is one big sports camp! There are empty, unused stadiums and sports arenas in practically every district, where parents could potentially organize and coach their own neighborhood soccer teams. And with the growing number of running paths the municipality has been building, such as the new 45-kilometer Huangpu riverfront public space, there’s no excuse not to stay in shape.
Chinese parents and students might be competitive when it comes to academics, but what better outlet for all that mental stress than some good-old-fashioned competitive sports over the summer?
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.