DUBAI // There is more to physical education than gym sessions and games of football, schools chiefs were told yesterday.
Schools need to focus on educating children about physical activity to help their physical, mental and social development, a senior health official said.
"Physical education and physical activity are different. Activity is exercising your muscles. Physical education is taught in class … and it should be in the curriculum," said Dr Fathia Hatim Al Mazmi, head of health promotion and public health and safety at Dubai Health Authority.
"Some schools, they just teach football. There is no education."
The authority proposes standardising physical education in schools to encompass both activity and studies. The programme, which is still under consideration, coud be introduced in every school in Dubai depending on the results of a survey carried out in December.
"The survey, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Dubai Statistics centre, was conducted across all government and private schools in Dubai to access the levels of physical activity in schools, to identify gaps as well as understand successful physical activity initiatives," said Dr Al Mazmi.
The aim is to develop of standard guidelines for physical activity and education.
Schoolchildren should have an hour of physical activity a day and four or five classroom-taught hours a week, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States recommend.
Schools in Dubai should merge the two - education and activity - in the PE class, said Dr Al Mazmi, and physical education should be compulsory.
"Children, they like PE classes. They are fun and joyful. They like it more than physics, chemistry or maths classes, so let us combine these things."
Last year, the Ministry of Education increased the number of PE classes in primary and secondary schools to three and two a week respectively.
Dubai has had problems in the past with physical education in schools. Last November, the Ministry of Education revealed that about 100 schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates had no PE teachers.
In addition, some private schools offer their own curriculum.
Without a standard unified system in place, some schoolchildren are not receiving adequate attention. "We are currently tabulating the results and, based on our findings and recommendations, we will formulate a comprehensive action plan to improve physical activity and education in schools," says Dr Al Mazmi.
Abdullah Ibrahim, a PE teacher at Omar bin Al Khattab Model School in Deira for the past seven years, said it was important that youngsters were made aware of why they should be exercising, but a classroom may not be the best place to get through to them.
"In our schools, mostly in each class, we have a minimum of four to five kids who are overweight. Many have diabetes."
Mr Ibrahim said educating pupils would reduce the long-term risks of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, all of which can result from being overweight, but this should not be taught in class.
"The kids, they sit in class the whole day. They have only one or two PE classes in a week so it is unfair to keep them in the class and teach them about this and that."
The information should also not be delivered in a rigorous format, said Michael Lambert, a Canadian father whose children attend Dubai American Academy.
"I think it's a good thing. My eldest boy, who is 7, would be able to absorb most if not all of it. My younger boy, who just turned 6, there's no way he would absorb it."
Mr Ibrahim said: "You can give a lecture, but not in the class. You can take them outside, you can give them five minutes in the playground, and then you start the game [gym class]."
Sitting in the confines of a classroom might result in children not paying attention to the information being given to them because "they are so hyper to go outside to play", he said.