Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

PE classes critical to healthy schooling, teacher says

Schools and parents must take responsibility for ensuring children take enough exercise

Parents and schools have a responsibility to ensure children get enough exercise. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National
Parents and schools have a responsibility to ensure children get enough exercise. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National

Schools and parents must commit to ensuring UAE children get enough physical exercise, a PE teacher in the Emirates has warned.

Dean Winders, director of sport and physical education at GEMS World Academy, said the onus was on adults to help tackle the problem.

Current government statistics show up to 40 per cent of children in the UAE are either overweight or obese.

Regular exercise helps combat the issue, but left unresolved being overweight can lead to major health problems, including diabetes, later on in life.

“We need to create the right environment to make physical education fun, engaging and interesting for pupils of all age levels,” said Mr Winders.

“I think part of the problem is having the correct facilities. Many private schools have good or outstanding facilities.

“But in some government schools I hear stories of 50 pupils and one staff member in a courtyard.

“We need to educate families and parents. Schools are there to implement a curriculum of PE but families have to play a role, too.”

Mr Winders described having taught PE across the UAE for more than 20 years.

He said it was critical schools were able to provide teachers with the right time, space and equipment to ensure children got enough exercise.

A significant part of the problem, he argued, was that already packed timetables and curriculums tended to take precedent over PE lessons.

“Part of the problem is fitting physical education within a timetable as class teachers are often under pressure,” he said.

“Schools are doing two to three lessons a week whereas it should be daily exercise.”

Last year, a YouGov poll of more than 1,000 parents found nine out of 10 children in the UAE and Saudi Arabia had access to mobile phones.

The research showed children spent an average of two and a half hours a day on the devices – time experts have argued would be better spent enjoying healthier, outdoor pursuits.

A recent change to school policy in Dubai has also mandated more physical exercise for pupils as well as less unhealthy foods.

The Dubai Health Authority now requires children to spend 150 minutes a week in PE classes, while schools also have to demonstrate efforts to encourage pupils to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Last week, British ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge, Darcey Bussell - who was in Dubai to promote a schools dance programme - said she believed music could encourage children to exercise more.

"It’s very important that dance and music stays a central part in education,” she said.

“When you have something like a computer screen that’s so engaging we have to come up with something more engaging because children will get bored.

"I see this as a global problem. We forget the physical side [of education] is just as important as the academic side.”

Updated: March 6, 2019 06:09 PM

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