Schools Brush Aside PE

Schools Brush Aside PESchools Brush Aside PE

Obesity is a common problem among children today in Iran as their diet mainly consists of high-calorie foods and their favorite pastime is computer games which do not involve much physical movement. Spending long hours before the television or on mobile phones, tablets and other digital devices, is also contributing significantly to lack of physical activity.

In addition, the per capita sports area for students is less than half a square meter in the country, and PE or physical education hours are few and far between. The Fifth Five-Year Economic Development Plan that ends next month had stipulated that the per capita sports area for each student should be one square meter; in reality the space provided is way below this criterion.

If all the spaces earmarked for sports and physical activities inside and outside schools are added up, the per capita is not even 0.2 square meters, says Ahmad Seyyed Karimi, head of the Physical Education Office at Tehran Province Education Department, affiliated to the Education Ministry. School playgrounds are used for other functions, more than for sports.

Tehran is the most “deprived” province for recreational activities due to the large number of students and lack of space while other provinces are in a better state, Karimi maintains.

The Health Ministry’s last study on the sate of students’ health, dubbed the ‘Caspian Study: A National School-Based Surveillance of Students’ High Risk Behavior’ conducted in 2011 and 2012, shows that  the rate of physical activity among students is in a sorry state with 5.4% of primary, 9.2% of secondary and 13.3% of high school students doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity during the six days of the school week,  while the standard for students 6 to 18 years of age is an hour a day.    

Talking to the Persian Weekly ‘Salamat’, Dr. Abolghasem Rezvani, an expert at the Health Ministry’s Youth and School Health Office, said that for this age group, failing to do at least an hour of physical activity can lead to overweight which in turn paves the way for development of non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes in the later years.

As children in the age group 12 to 18 years go through puberty and physical growth, they must have a full hour of exercise daily with 20 minutes of rigorous workouts that “will make them feel so short of breath that they cannot speak more than three or four words,” Rezvani said.

 Borrowed Hours

Under the Caspian study, students were questioned about PE at school. The results were dismal as 9.3% of primary students, 17% of secondary and 32.15% of high school students said that PE classes are not held regularly.

Apparently, PE is considered to be the least useful program if not dismissed as unessential. Students’ complaint was that their sport hours are frequently “borrowed” by other teachers, especially near the end of the academic term, to make up for any shortfall in completing the syllabus.

Air pollution has also become another nuisance for PE cancellation.  

The Fifth FYDP (2011-2016) had envisaged an increase from two hours to three or four hours a week for PE. In spite of the mandate, there was no change.

“Lack of PE teachers is the problem,” says Karimi.

So far barely 1,700 PE teachers are employed in Tehran while the demand is around 2,500. In order to add an hour to the PE classes, 1,250 more teachers are required whom the ministry can’t afford to hire.

Therefore, to make up for the lack of sports time and space, the Physical Education Office has focused on extracurricular activities such as the Olympiads, competitions and inter-school associations and morning exercises outside of school hours, he said.  

 Harmful Pastime

According to the World Health Organization guidelines, children must not spend more than two hours a day on digital devices, but the results of the Caspian survey showed that only 24% of students in Iran follow the instruction while 22.6% spend three hours, and 30.4% spend four hours or more on such gadgets.

One measure that can be effective is to make morning exercise obligatory in schools. The Health Ministry has proposed two to five minutes for stretching exercises for each class, but the Education Ministry has not welcomed the proposal on the grounds that “teachers will lose control of the class and students will mess about during this time.”

Rezvani who is an expert on physical medicine and rehabilitation, said that stretching exercises are good for both physical as well as mental wellbeing. The results of two national surveys in America have confirmed its effectiveness.

Educational bodies have a key role in ensuring that the youth have enough physical exercise by allocating time and space to physical activities in schools and raising awareness about the dangers of the modern sedentary lifestyles.