Promoting sports and a healthy lifestyle among students will reap results only if teachers are adequately trained and the authorities recognise and address the existing shortage of PE teachers.
TEN minutes was the minimum time taken by Ruxyn Tang and her classmates when changing into their sports attire for their Physical Education (PE) lesson in secondary school.
That took up a third of their 30-minute lesson, thanks to a rigid school rule which did not allow students to be dressed in sports attire from home unless the PE lesson was in the first period.
“The girls had to change outside the toilet cubicles most of the time. We were then left with 20 minutes for ‘exercise’, typically warm-up exercises while the boys were roaming the field doing whatever they pleased,” said Ruxyn, now 18.
Form Five student Kathy Chong* had similar complaints.
“One student will be picked to lead the class to do the stretching exercises. After that, we were left to our own devices until the bell rang.
“I wish my teacher would allow us to play more games during PE,” she said.
However, not all students look forward to physical activities and playing in the field.
Form Four student Sabrina Yaakob* said she liked PE as it was when she could catch up with her friends.
“We get to sit and chit-chat for an hour; what is there not to like?,” she said.
Lack of facilities
The complaints of the students are not unfounded.
Lack of proper changing rooms, shower facilities and incompetent teachers teaching PE are factors that can demotivate students from taking an interest in the subject.
Still, such inconveniences should not be the excuse for students to do their Maths homework in the classroom or idling their time away chatting under the trees during PE lessons.
With the syllabus covering athletics, games and gymnastics, PE is in sync with the purpose of the National Education Philosophy to stimulate the holistic development of a child.
On the other hand, health education has been taught in schools since 1988 when the combined subject of Physical and Health Education (PHE) was introduced.
Under the curriculum revamp in 1999, PHE was split into two different subjects — PE and Health Education.
The Education Ministry stipulates that schools should allocate two periods for the subjects each week, dividing between 60 periods for Physical Education and 24 periods for Health Education in a year.
Universiti Malaya (UM) Education Faculty Mathematics and Science Education Department senior lecturer Dr Shabeshan Rengasamy cautioned that schools should alternate PE lessons on different days instead of having the lessons over two consecutive periods.
“The reason two periods are allocated for PE is to provide students with more opportunities to exercise.
“Schools should not slot the two PE periods on the same day just for convenience,” he said.
According to him, PE is a skills-based subject that requires a considerable period of time for one to progress.
“PE is unlike a communicative subject such as the English language. Students can practise speaking English during their day-to-day activities but it is not the same with PE,” said Dr Shabeshan who teaches a basic PE course to undergraduates training to be teachers.
He stressed that the ultimate objective of Physical Education is to equip students with the skills to lead an active lifestyle, a crucial element in the fight against rising obesity among schoolchildren.
“Go to any park and you see Malaysians are either jogging or walking.
“However, they can add variety to their exercise routine if they pick up more games and techniques from PE lessons,” said Dr Shabeshan.
Elaborating further, he cited examples on how the techniques in long jump and sprint hurdles could be useful for recreational activities when students had to get across a creek or water puddle.
“One must remember that PE also teaches social skills when students are involved in team sports,” Dr Shabeshan pointed out.
A PE teacher needs to be a Jack-of-all-trades because the teacher needs to be well-versed in athletics, gymnastics and the techniques involved in at least nine types of games, including basketball, football and volleyball.
“Knowledge is just one aspect — a PE teacher also needs to be confident in demonstrating the skills to the students,” said Dr Shabeshan.
A study carried out in 2004 by Tunku Abdul Rahman College Assoc Prof Dr Wee Eng Hoe revealed that only 14% of primary school teachers decided to take the PE option.
“It is common for schools to have one or two teachers who opt to teach PE , while other subject teachers are being slotted to take on PE classes.
“There is certainly a critical shortage of qualified PE teachers in schools, with the problem compounded by the lack of PE facilities in schools,” said Dr Wee.
He said that a PE programme would be managed effectively if a specialised PE teacher runs it instead of teachers with little or no training in the field.
Dr Wee, a 2007 Fulbright scholar, carried out a comparative study of PE in the United States and Malaysia at Ithaca College in New York. His focus was on the school systems of New York state’s Nassau and Suffolk counties and its central region compared to that of urban schools in Malaysia.
His findings revealed that PE teachers in New York were fully trained in the field while the majority of teachers who taught PE in Malaysia had little or no training.
Even with so many qualified PE teachers, New York state still suffered from a shortage of PE teachers. Dr Wee also noted that the New York schools cited in the study had a system of sharing their PE teachers.
Reflecting on the problem at home, he said a short-term solution was to conduct in-house training to help non-option teachers teach PE in schools.
“It is always best that teachers who are teaching PE are active in sports themselves,” said Dr Wee.
Nevertheless, he added that teachers alone cannot be blamed when students are not enjoying the full benefits of PE lessons in schools.
“There hasn’t been enough emphasis placed on PE because it is not an exam subject, and this directly leads to the lackadaisical attitude of some teachers and students towards PE lessons in schools,” lamented Dr Wee.
He opined that parents also had a role to play in reviving students’ interest in PE.
“Indulge in sports and games with your children. Make it a part of your lifestyle and the youngsters will soon begin to enjoy PE lessons in school,” said Dr Wee.
Exercising the options
Recently, the Education Ministry launched a six-week pilot Intervention Training Programme for Extra Option Secondary School Teachers (Pito) which will be concluded next month at several public universities,
Targeted at Science and Maths teachers nationwide, the programme was introduced to train them to teach an additional subject. They had three choices — History, PE or Geography.
Chemistry teacher Aiza Salwa Alwi who signed up for PE said the programme was comprehensive in training the teachers to be more effective in teaching the subject.
“Teachers familiarise themselves with the skills and techniques involved in the games during this short stint,” said Aiza Salwa, who had travelled from Kedah to enrol in the programme at UM.
She had previously taught PE in her school and it was her interest in the subject that made her register for the programme.
“Teachers are taught to identify ‘dangerous or risky elements’ in sports activities. I think such knowledge is useful to increase the safety aspects of PE lessons,” she said.
“As PE teachers, we can’t run away from managing sports events in schools. I am glad that sports management was included in the module of the programme,” she added.
Elsewhere, some PE teachers from Perak and Sabah had the opportunity of a lifetime last year to participate in an exchange programme with specialised teachers in the field from the United Kingdom under the International Inspiration outreach programme. The programme, organised by the British Council, UK Sport and Unicef, was held in conjunction with the 2012 London Olympics.
The programme’s goal is to empower the lives of children through quality PE by linking 300 schools in the UK to 300 other schools across 20 countries.
SMK Raja Perempuan PE teacher Mashidah Abu Bakar went to high schools in Manchester to observe how PE lessons were conducted there.
“The syllabus and the teaching methods between UK and Malaysia are almost the same. The only difference is how special-needs students are brought in to integrate with other students during PE lessons,” said Mashidah.
She added that students in the UK were actively involved in organising sports activities — an approach she has initiated with her students here.
Meanwhile, Mashidah’s students were excited to have two PE teachers from the UK teaching them football for a few lessons.
The students and teachers from both countries are still communicating regularly via e-mail to exchange ideas on PE and sports, including the latest on the Mini Olympics games concluded recently in Ipoh.
In fact, students from SMK Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh were enthralled when International Inspiration ambassador and cycling great Sir Chris Hoy shared in a web conference with them that the Steven Spielberg movie E.T. was the inspiration behind his successful cycling career.
The 2008 triple Olympic gold medallist was also touring the schools in the UK and he had even introduced the traditional sepak takraw game to students from Hartford.
Getting the ball rolling
Form Five student Cheng Ju Mei said PE lessons was her form of relieving stress when she was preparing for her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination.
“My class begged for PE lessons before SPM because it had been replaced with other lessons.
“I’m lucky to have a good and qualified PE teacher. She taught us baseball, hockey, futsal and even the right way to skip rope,” said Ju Mei.
Indeed, experienced PE teacher Vani Ramasamy said it was not impossible to get students to love PE lessons.
“Sometimes, it’s the teacher who makes all the difference by taking the extra effort to make the PE lesson interesting,” she said.
“For instance, the school hall can be converted into a makeshift court on rainy days when the students are unable to go to the field.
“Students will look forward to the next lessons when they are having fun,” she added.
* Names have been changed.
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