DUBAI // Half of all physical education teachers at state schools are overweight, results of a test conducted by education officials have revealed.
In the first fitness trials administered by the PE department at the Ministry of Education, 55 per cent of male educators and 45 per cent of female teachers were found to be overweight.
Of those who were overweight, 36.3 per cent of men and 19.6 per cent of women were in the obese range, according to the results of a Body Mass Index (BMI) test that was part of their evaluation.
The fitness tests, which began in April, were initiated to get a baseline measure of fitness levels for around 600 PE teachers at government schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
"All teachers were challenged to different exercises and these were altered according to their age to assess their fitness," said Salam Kareem, PE programmes coordinator at the ministry.
"The high number of unfit teachers in schools boils down to bad habits and an inactive lifestyle."
He said overweight teachers set a bad example for pupils.
"Our focus is the pupils. When they look at an unhealthy PE teacher daily, they won't care about their health either."
The fitness test included push-ups, sit-ups, flexibility exercises and step test to measure endurance.
Mr Kareem said the tests were not very rigorous because they wanted to give educators a chance to shape up. Their progress will be tracked for three years before officials start taking strict action against unfit teachers, including possible firing.
From next year, educators will also be tested at the beginning and the end of every academic year.
"These results will be sent to the education zones and the teachers," he said.
"They must know where they stand. These teachers have to show an improvement when we test them in the next round."
Experts also blame the poor health of sports teachers on the closure of the PE department three years ago.
Phillip Elder, a physical education training professional who worked with state school PE teachers last year, said he agreed with the findings.
"They had no programme in place to keep them motivated to stay fit," said Mr Elder.
"It was up to them to be healthy or not because there was no requirement or standard to maintain."
He said a standard assessment needs to be developed to promote, at least, an average fitness level. "There has to be some kind of running assessment and they need to assess different strengths."
Zaghdoud Mohamed, physical education supervisor at the Sharjah Education Zone, said many teachers did not take sports seriously at school. "PE teachers have to start moving more," he said.
"Especially the women; many are overweight."
He said the tests are a good reminder that the job requires being on top form.
But Mr Kareem believes a test should not be their wake-up call.
"They were hired for a reason, because they are qualified. We should not be telling them why they need to be fit."
He said educators are expected to make exercise a part of their daily personal routine.
"Even if it is just a 30-minute walk, run or swim."
After the ministry reinstated the sports section, officials began addressing the problem by giving lessons to PE teachers in the latest exercise techniques and games.
Retraining existing teachers has become important because of the challenges in recruiting new educators, they said.
Jamal Almidfa, who oversees teacher training at the ministry, said hiring from certain countries had become difficult in turbulent times. "We hire teachers from the Middle East and Africa," he said. "And we have started facing problems getting teachers from there now."
He said they want more Emirati teachers to fill those gaps now.
"Finding female PE educators is the hardest," he said. "This is also because there are no specialised programmes at the federal universities to teach it."
Michael O'Brien, the associate academic dean of education at HCT, said they were planning to start a health and physical education specialisation this year