DUBAI // A revamp of physical education classes in public schools will mean more pupils get moving, and in more sophisticated ways.
The children will use everything from parachutes to exercise balls in their three weekly sports sessions, and physical education teachers are being trained to step up the fitness regime in schools.
More than 100 public school physical education teachers in Dubai and the Northern Emirates have been sweating it out in gymnasiums to unlearn outdated techniques and introduce more rigorous physical activities with the help of professionals from Mefitpro, hired by the Ministry of Education.
Jamal Essa Almidfa, head of the physical education section at the Ministry, said physical education had been placed on the back burner for a long time and that this had taken a toll on children's wellbeing.
Figures from the UN suggest one in eight children in the UAE is obese, because of poor food choices and a lack of physical activity.
Mr Almidfa said his department was scrapped three years ago and has just been reinstated by the authority to raise the standards of physical education at schools.
This year, the ministry increased the instruction time from one to three sessions for primary and middle-school pupils, while children in high school will have at least two hours of physical education every week.
"Teachers must know the right ways to administer exercise," Mr Almidfa said. "There are also many new techniques to improve physical activity which should be adopted."
He said some teachers have been in the profession for more than 15 years but still lacked the appropriate training. "They do not know that they are teaching exercise with incorrect postures," he said.
"For example, most PE teachers ask students to bend and touch their toes in drill practice. This is totally wrong because it strains their back. Instead, students should be asked to lie on the ground and stretch so that the pressure is directed to the floor."
A few weeks ago, Abdulla Ibrahim, a physical education teacher at Omar bin Khattab Model School in Dubai, learnt the correct techniques for coaching athletic runners.
"We are learning how to train young kids," he said. "They should not run on their heel but on the foot."
Karen Gunning is the founder of Fitness Beat, a group exercise studio that has been teaching female PE instructors at government schools a full-body workout with a Both Sides Utilised (Bosu) ball.
Ms Gunning, a fitness professional, who is also a Mefitpro trainer, said: "It takes a lot of muscle action to do these exercises and also enhances the ability to balance," .
The ministry is also planning to increase the number of extra-curricular sport choices for pupils. Teachers will be trained by professionals in football, basketball and volleyball.
Mr Almidfa said: "We started some new games last year and are planning to add badminton as well."
Physical education teachers voiced their appreciation for all the training the ministry has slated for the coming year, but some said they will be restricted in implementing the new techniques due to a lack of facilities.
Mai Saleem of the Mariam School in Sharjah said: "The problem is that we do not have indoor sporting facilities and well kept grounds for sports." She said for most of the year it was too hot for the children to play outside: "For major events, we have to rely on sports clubs."
Another educator, who wished to remain anonymous, said schools wouldhave to buy their own equipment, which could prove expensive.