Multi-pronged efforts shield children's eyesight

After teaching for over 20 years, Ding Caihong has adopted a new habit: requesting her students to gaze at green plants indoors or scenery outside windows during class breaks.

After teaching for over 20 years, Ding Caihong has adopted a new habit: requesting her students to gaze at green plants indoors or scenery outside windows during class breaks.

Over half of the sixth-graders in Ding's class wear glasses due to myopia, said Ding, a Chinese language teacher at the No. 2 Primary School in Xingqing District of Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

"To protect the students' eyesight, our school has upgraded the lights in classrooms, and placed green plants in classrooms and corridors," Ding said.

In the school's routine physical examination, Ding's student Guan Sitong, 12, was diagnosed with myopia while she was still in the fifth grade last year. Her nine-year-old brother Guan Siyu, now a fourth-grader, still maintains good vision.

"My daughter's nearsightedness has driven me to pay closer attention to their nutrition and sleeping hours," said Liu Zirui, mother of the two children. "I even bought them lutein and eye massagers."

The mother now has reason to breathe a sigh of relief as the "double reduction" policy that China's education authorities launched last July has helped ease the children's burden of homework.

"My son spends more time playing around the neighborhood after class, while the school also provides students with diversified activities including sports and handicrafts making," said Liu.

The school also has arranged a great variety of sports activities on and off campus to allow students to have sufficient time playing outdoors, in an attempt to protect their eyesight and reduce the worrisome nearsightedness rate.

"Exposure to sunlight and looking at the distance during our outdoor sports activities can relax eye muscles and protect the vision of students," said Zhao Hua, vice principal of the school.

To prevent and control myopia, Ningxia allocates 10 million yuan (about 1.5 million US dollars) in special funds annually and has launched pilot programs in seven counties covering 83 schools, including the school Zhao works for, according to the autonomous region's education authorities.

In 2021, the myopia rate for children and teenagers in Ningxia was 47.3 percent, experiencing a decline of 1.1 percentage points from the level in 2020. The rate has dropped by 1.4 percentage points on average each year since 2018, according to the education authorities.

The myopia rate of China's children and teenagers in 2018 was 53.6 percent, and the number decreased to 50.2 percent by 2019, according to a joint survey conducted by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the National Health Commission.

However, the rate increased vividly in 2020. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020, children and teenagers took online courses and spent less time outdoors, and as a result, myopia prevention and control faced challenges.

China aims to achieve a consecutive reduction in myopia rate for children and teenagers from 2021 to 2025 by guiding children to protect their eyes, alleviating the pressure of excessive schoolwork, encouraging outdoor activities, and using electronic devices appropriately, according to a plan released by 15 central government agencies including MOE last year.

Apart from heavy homework loads, the excessive use of electronic devices, particularly playing games on smartphones, has been widely blamed for the rising myopia rate among school kids. In response to government calls, online game providers have moved to protect eyesight by tackling their addiction to video games.

Since last August, online game providers can only offer one-hour services to minors from 8 pm to 9 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on public holidays, according to China's National Press and Publication Administration.

"Efforts in the past two years have paid off and the nearsightedness rate of my students has been rather stable," said Ding. "The outcome shows that our prevention and control measures are effective."

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