Study: More work, less play impacts on students’ fitness

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Study: More work, less play impacts on students’ fitness

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An hour less a week is making a difference to 13-year-old Yun.

Since his middle school in the Seodaemun District, northernwestern Seoul, cut physical education classes from three hours to two hours a week this semester, he has missed that extra time.

“I wish P.E. class was longer and that we could go outside for the class,” rather than stay inside the school gymnasium, Yun said.

Since that additional hour was turned into an English class, Lee, a teacher at Yun’s school, said, “Children look less active than before.”

As experts point out that physical education classes are too limited at present, studies are finding that more teens are becoming less active. A Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education survey of around 1.25 million students from elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul, reported that one out of every seven students, or around 15 percent, don’t do any extra exercise besides their mandatory gym classes.

The education office last year conducted physical examinations on students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades and found that 15.8 percent of the students were in the lowest tier of physical fitness. At the same time, Seoul students’ obesity rates went up from 9.4 percent in 2000 to 11.1 percent in 2009.

The office said that 84 percent of students at an all-girls’ middle school in Dongdaemun District reported that they don’t do any exercise, most frequently citing a lack of time (45.2 percent).

“Due to the excessive emphasis on studies, students lack exercise time and on top of that, they usually watch TV or play computer games during their free time,” said Oh Ja-wang, a head researcher at Seoul National University’s sports science research center.

Even so, schools are slowly diminishing their hours of physical education. A survey by Ahn Min-seok, a member of the National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee, found that 78.7 percent of Seoul elementary schools reduced their P.E. class hours for fifth graders this year compared to last year.

An elementary school in Dongdaemun District reduced its third graders’ P.E. class hours by 21 hours over this year, at the same time that it increased its hours of third-grade English and math classes.

While schools reduce P.E. class hours, students who want more physical education are turning to private facilities to get it. At a private sports club in Gaepo-dong in Southern Seoul last Sunday, six elementary school students were learning how to play football with an instructor while eight middle school students were in the middle of a basketball game.

“In hagwon [private education institutes], we are able to learn football and how to dribble or pass a ball, but in school, we only play dodge ball or run,” said Kim, 11, a student at the sports club.

A physical education instructor at a sports hagwon in Songpa District, southeastern Seoul, said, “We operate 15 [P.E. classes for students] from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every Saturday, but there are still so many students who want to join.”


By Kim Min-sang [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]

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