Exercise essential for children’s health

Professor Hans de Ridder. (Supplied)

Professor Hans de Ridder. (Supplied)

According to Professor Hans de Ridder, director of the School of Biokinetics, Recreation and Sport Science at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University (NWU), new international focus will be placed on the importance of physical education programmes at this year’s Global Forum for Physical Education Pedagogy (GoFPEP) 2014, which will be hosted by the NWU in Potchefstroom from May 15 to 17 2014. 

It will address many issues of physical education, the lack thereof and the benefits it holds. A historical overview of physical education plays a crucial role with regard to physical inactivity in South African children. 

“Elimination of physical education programmes is one of the factors that contributed to the reduction in physical activity among the youth. Serious effort was made to offer the subject in pre-apartheid, but due to the apartheid legislation that only focused on a small minority, the largest section of the population received little to no attention, equipment, facilities or well-trained teachers to teach physical education.” 

In 1996 the new South African school law was implemented. Physical education became part of the five focused areas of life orientation and disappeared as an individual subject. This model has been compulsory in all South African schools since 2008. De Ridder believes that problems such as poor status or esteem, poor or no equipment, apparatus and facilities as well as poorly or untrained teachers are some of the problems and challenges schools face. 

Physical education receives great support from International organisations such as the United Nations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, and the World Health Organisation. The Berlin Agenda and Plan of Action state that children and young persons throughout the world have the right to play and participate in physical activities.

Physical education in SA

It was declared by the previous minister of basic education that sport is for everyone, including children with learning disabilities, and that physical education and sport can help combat obesity. The national department of education is responsible for ensuring sufficient facilities, equipment and well-trained teachers to implement education. 

De Ridder says physical education is in an unacceptable state and lacking in South African schools. “For many years to come, factors such as lack of funds and human and physical resources will offer the greatest challenges and will further complicate the matter in conjunction with the shrinking budget and crisis our country’s basic education finds itself.

“The quality of physical education can positively contribute to the health, social and economic environment of the country and its people. Physical education is an important investment in the field of health and in the long-term, it can strongly influence the lives of children in this country. 

“During apartheid the physical education curriculum was perpetuated by race, class, gender and ethnicity. Ever since 1994, due to increased pressure to increase student achievements, the opportunities for children to engage in physical activity at school have dwindled. Therefore the two models used to date in South African schools pre- and post-apartheid were not successful.” 

He says schools play a key role in shaping healthy behaviours, including greater physical activity and improve dietary habits because children and youth spend a great deal of their time within the school settings. According to De Ridder and Dr Dané Coetzee, the following three factors can have a positive impact on childhood obesity in South Africa:

  • Effective physical education in South African schools 

Through scientifically based physical activity, Kinderkinetics aims to promote and optimise the neuromotor development of young children, promote functional growth and development, focus on certain movement activities to promote and facilitate sports-specific activities, and implement appropriate rehabilitation for children with growth and/or developmental disabilities and specific motor deficiencies. Kinderkinetics address obesity and the development of a healthy and balanced lifestyle in children with programmes offered in groups. 

  • Involvement of parents and the community 

It will be almost impossible to teach children healthy dietary habits or participation in daily physical activities at a young age without the support and motivation of the parents. Therefore it’s important for the parents to be involved in the process. Community involvement and assistance in keeping children fit and healthy is important. Communities need governmental support to make the community safer, to construct sidewalks for walking and bicycle lanes, help with the development of sport grounds and play areas for the children. 

  • The important role of evidence-based physical activity intervention 

According to a study in 2012, children who are physically active on a daily basis are more likely to become physically active adults. Therefore it’s important to promote physical activity as a normal part of life in schools and in society. The GoFPEP conference will be the platform for more than 100 international experts in the field who will discuss the best evidence to improve the quality and quantity of physical activity through physical education programmes in schools.

For more information about the conference, visit www.globalpeforum2014.co.za

This supplement has been paid for by the North-West University Potchefstroom Campus. Contents and pictures were supplied and signed of by the NWU