No time for PE - Students focused on exams after ninth grade, says Reid
While acknowledging that obesity among children is a real issue, Minister of Education, Youth and Information Ruel Reid has dismissed calls for physical education (PE) to be made mandatory for all students.
According to Reid, mandatory physical education in school after the ninth grade is something he has no intention of implementing, since the focus is on preparing students at this level for Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams.
The introduction of mandatory physical activity from the pre-primary to the tertiary level was one of the recommendations made by director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre Dr Alafia Samuels last week when she joined other stakeholders to evaluate the Caribbean's efforts to reducing non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
"Twice as many younger people are dying from chronic disease in the Caribbean when compared to North America," Samuels noted, while calling upon the education ministry to implement mandatory physical education in schools at all levels.
But addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday, Reid contended that there is not enough time within the allotted teaching hours for children to focus on physical activities.
He argued that it is parents who should take on the responsibility of ensuring that their children are physically active after school and on weekends.
"There have been a lot of calls recently about mandatory this and mandatory that. As a fairly recent practising administrator, and based on how the syllabuses are structured, as it relates to timetable, the CXC programme is largely what we do beyond grade nine truthfully," said Reid.
"We would be hard pressed, hard pressed, and this is why there is no school that has a mandatory programme in terms of physical education within the regular school time," the education minister told Gleaner reporters and editors.
Reid said that, as it is, teachers are begging for more hours to teach children and to adequately prepare them for CXC.
"We would love to do everything in the school, but it is not possible, the timetable is not going to allow it," the education minister pointed out, before asking, "Can you imagine if we were to say, let's cut the subjects down to a maximum five subjects and you have to do physical sports?"
The fight for mandatory PE in schools
* Required PE classes help students develop good exercise habits, resulting in healthier lifestyles.
* Healthy exercise helps prevent obesity and other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
* Because most of the normal school day requires students to participate in relatively sedentary activities, mandatory PE classes force students to do something active.
* The classes help students burn calories, exercise muscles, reduce stress levels, and improve their psychological and physical health.
* Students who don't have much athletic ability may not have the skills necessary to defend themselves against more competitive athletes.
* Uncoordinated, weak, and overweight students might get bullied by athletic students or hurt themselves while playing sports or using fitness equipment.
* Even healthy, athletic students are susceptible to PE injuries and although students may receive similar injuries on the playground or in extra-curricular sports, they can choose whether to participate - it's not mandatory.
* Mandatory PE classes can be disadvantageous for students who have strict academic requirements.
* Some students need class time to focus on advanced course work that might help them get into competitive tertiary institutions.
* Mandatory PE classes limit a student's freedom to choose where she wants to invest her time.