International

Dispatches

By Emily Goodman — November 12, 2004 2 min read

SINGAPORE

Forced Fitness: PE classes are just the beginning for the growing number of Singapore primary school students deemed overweight. Above and beyond group ball games and other recess fare, such students are enrolled in compulsory “health clubs,” meaning a daily regimen of dribbling basketballs, running, and jumping rope. Teachers monitor each health club member’s height and weight monthly until the student slims down. It seems drastic, but government officials see little choice: By some estimates, half the nation’s population is obese. “It’s enough to alarm,” Mabel Yap, head of research and information at the government’s Health Promotion Board, told the Associated Press.

FRANCE

Unhappy Days: The most-watched reality TV series in France doesn’t involve people struggling on isolated islands or eating insects. Instead, the republic is glued to a new show featuring 12 boys and 12 girls facing an even stiffer challenge: surviving the rigors of a recreated 1950s French public school. The Boarding School of Chavagnes forces contestants to dress and act like students of the 1950s, including taking exams. Even the discipline is old-fashioned: Badly behaved students are forced to wear dunce caps and copy passages in longhand. The show seems to have sparked an interest in reintroducing the era’s severity. “Life is hard,” France’s conservative minister of education, François Fillon, told Libération. “The educational system must prepare youth for this challenge.”

CHINA

Bad Blood: Although many parents worry about school violence, most don’t expect it to come from teachers. But this year, Chinese schools have seen a string of bloody scenes, capped off by the stabbing deaths of four students by Liu Hongwen, a Hunan Province primary school teacher. Liu, whom the South China Morning Post reported suffers from a mental illness, also wounded four other teachers and 12 students. It was China’s third such attack in two months; in September, a bus driver stabbed and wounded 25 children. The month before, a janitor attacked two teachers and 15 children, killing one.

JAPAN

West Is West: “Land of the Falling Sun” could be Japan’s new motto—30 percent of students there apparently have trouble telling which way the sun sets, and 40 percent believe the sun orbits the Earth. That’s according to a survey conducted by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, as quoted in the Japan Times. Hidehiko Agata, an assistant professor at the observatory, told the Agence France-Presse he has an idea where such astronomical ignorance comes from: Under the national elementary school curriculum introduced in 2002, teachers only explain the movement of celestial bodies as viewed from the perspective of the ground. “Students’ experience with nature has become very limited,” he said.

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