Primary school in remote China achieves zero myopia among 500-plus students, credits a lot of time outdoors and green plants

A school in China said outdoor activities and a ban on mobile devices helped reduce myopia rates.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

One persistent problem China has grappled with for years is the growing prevalence of myopia in the student population and the rate for school graduates tops 80 per cent.

That makes it all the more remarkable that a primary school in Yunnan province in southwest China reported that none of its students had shortsightedness, according to state-run Xinhua.

Sun Fubiao, the principal of Wantang Primary School, who wears glasses himself, was quoted as saying: “I often tell students it is not convenient to wear glasses. I show them unflattering pictures and also let them experience how it feels when wearing glasses.

“I always believe that protecting students’ eyesight is the best gift from us ‘glasses teachers’.”

The school in Yunnan forces children to go outside in between every class.
PHOTO: The Cover

Sun said he focuses on letting the students outside for at least three hours every day, a stark contrast to typical schools in mainland cities where young students are often not allowed to go outdoors during class breaks.

“We require all students to leave their classroom after every class. For those students who do not like sports, we still encourage them to go outside and walk around,” said a teacher Yang Qingyi.

Although the school has underfunded facilities, its teachers have tried many creative ways to inspire an interest in physical activity.

For example, one activity involves the teachers tying a large towel in the shape of a shot put students can practise hurling; or they put two bricks on the ground to mark as a “goal” so the children can play football.

“If you want to know any success tips we have for having zero myopia case, the first tip is plenty of outdoor exercise,” Sun said.

The school also bans mobile devices, asking children to use a traditional pay phone to reach their guardians.
PHOTO: The Cover

Dr Chow Pak-chin, former president of The College of Ophthalmologists of Hong Kong who is also deputy director of the Greater Bay Area Ophthalmologists Alliance, told the South China Morning Post that the school’s approach follows science.

He said numerous studies from both China and elsewhere have shown that outdoor activities can slow down the development of myopia.

“In an outdoor environment, eyes are more relaxed than when they are indoors. Ultraviolet rays in the sunlight will help generate vitamin D, which is helpful for the development of sclera (the white outer layer of the eyeball).

“Plus, the sunlight will trigger the secretion of dopamine, an important hormone for the health of eyes,” said Chow.

He said it is difficult for schools in East Asia to guarantee at least two hours of outdoor activities due to a “disproportionate” academic pressure on students.

“We need to achieve a balance between academic study and personal health.”

Myopia rates in China are high, with 36 per cent of primary students being shortsighted.
PHOTO: The Cover

The school in Yunnan is a boarding school, so it can also monitor activities like sleeping. It requires its students to sleep for about 10.5 hours per day, half an hour longer than the national education authority’s minimum sleep requirement for primary school students.

The school bans students from taking any digital gadgets to campus and tells its students to use public telephones to contact their families.

“Three hours of outdoor exercises every day, 10 and a half hours’ sleep, plenty of trees in the school, absence of mobile phones and balanced nutrition in their food. Perhaps these factors all contribute to the good eyesight of our children,” said principal Sun.

Statistics from the National Health Commission showed that the myopia rate among children and juveniles in the country was 53.6 per cent in 2018, Thepaper.cn reported.

The report said that for primary school students, the rate is 36 per cent, while 72 per cent among early teens and 81 per cent of secondary school students were shortsighted.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.