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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Dubai's private school day may get longer to fit in new PE classes, say headteachers

Educators say more hours needed to fit in moral education, Arabic and Islamic studies plus 150 minutes of PE

Pupils learn football skills outdoors at Jebel Ali Primary in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
Pupils learn football skills outdoors at Jebel Ali Primary in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

Dubai's private schools may need children to start earlier and finish later to adjust to new demands from the education regulator, headteachers have said.

Packed curriculums could be the biggest barrier in front of plans to increase physical activity in private schools to 150 minutes a week to try and improve the health of children.

The Dubai Health Authority has outlined a new plan for all private schools focused on disease prevention and encouraging students to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The mandate includes 150 minutes of exercise a week for pupils.

As teachers and principals acknowledge exercise and diet should be at the foundations of good school ratings, the time to factor in extra activity sessions could prove challenging.

“PE for 150 minutes in the week would eat so much into their day, children would have to either come to school earlier or go home later,” said Dr Sadaf Jalil Ahmed, the doctor at Deira International School.

“Besides the core curriculum, there is also moral education, Arabic, Islamic and social studies to fit in.

“It would be really hard for schools to manage and schedule this into their day.”

Teachers have responded to sweeping changes planned as to how Dubai’s private schools will function.

ABU DHABI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 09MAY2017 -  Quick meal at SFC on Hamdan Street in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National ID: 31140 (for News) *** Local Caption ***  RK0905-Junkfoodstock08.jpg
Too many children eat junk food for lunch. Ravindranath K / The National

As part of the strategy, the DHA will launch 12 programmes based on three components, disease prevention and early detection, health information and research whilst encouraging students to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“If children went home earlier to go home and play, that would serve them better than exercise classes in school time,” Dr Ahmed added.

“Children have forgotten how to play outside, or they just don’t know how to do it.

“Schools should come down hard on the parents of children who are at risk of morbid obesity.

“At the moment, we can’t force parents to involve their children in a school-run fitness club. Maybe that should change, it can be done.”

Encouraging students to eat five portions of vegetables a day and do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week is something many schools are not engaged in.

“Good schools see education as extending beyond the classroom and core curriculum, into a student's holistic wellbeing,” said Brendon Fulton, principal at Dubai British School, part of the Taaleem group, which runs 11 schools.

“Sustaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is key to this wellbeing and schools have a major role to play in promoting this.

“Our canteen only sells food that is deemed appropriate by the DHA, and we provide no fast foods, fatty foods, unhealthy snacks or fizzy drinks.”

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Meal options at the school always include vegetables, with a wide range of healthy snacks and drinks, including fresh fruit.

All students, from the youngest to the oldest, take part in three-hours of physical education during the week, as well as extended opportunities through the school's rich extra-curricular and sporting programme.

By implementing new programs, the DHA aims to increase fruit and vegetable intake among students aged 7-15 years-old and encourage healthier food consumption.

It also aims to increase physical activity amongst students aged 7-15 years-old and decrease obesity in line with the Dubai plan and UAE vision 2021.

Kings’ School Dubai, where pupils are aged 3-11, has two set physical education sessions a week, one outdoors and one in the swimming pool – each 45 minutes each.

Children also have a 15-minute break in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon when many are encouraged to exercise through play.

“We have a specialised PE team so the children are getting good exercise in that time,” said Anekka Scarth, a teacher at the school.

“Most of the pupils take part in sport after school, but there are definitely some who could do with more exercise.

“We know exercise usually has a positive impact on classroom performance, but we have additional pressure from the curriculum.

“The biggest problem we have is where to fit additional exercise in during the day.”