Inflicting “cultural” changes in terms of physical education and physical activity

Behaviours are always driven by or, at the very least, related to perceptions, beliefs, practices, and habits. Such “cultures” in relation to physical activity, and pertaining to schools, also greatly impact how physical education is taught and also the activity behaviours of students, parents, and teachers. To achieve maximal impact and effectiveness of interventions, creating changes in school physical activity cultures is essential. To this end, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong is conducting a 5-year programme to enhance physical education and physical activity behaviours in 35 primary schools within the region. The programme uses a whole-school approach, whereby all school staff, students, and even their parents are targeted. Key elements of the programme include strengthening teachers’ professionalism through professional development, using information technology to enhance and improve teaching and self-monitoring of behaviours, provision of additional resources for activity participation, and modifying school routines and practices to create a more physical activity-friendly environment for all stakeholders. Activity classes were also provided to students, parents, and also in units of families. Apart from providing instruction on fundamental movement skills, these classes also utilised modified, easy- and safe-to-use equipment (e.g., sponge balls and flying discs) for games and activities tailored to participants’ ages and skill levels. School teachers were also encouraged to use these equipment during physical education classes.

Data collected in years 1 and 2 suggested that the programme was effective in countering the decreasing trend in physical activity behaviours in children. Engaging parents directly also appeared to be an effective way to induces behavioural and mindset changes. Nonetheless, creating changes at such levels require time, and the research team is continuing our efforts to maximise the impact of the programme. At the start of the programme, less than 13% of students have accrued the World Health Organisation recommendation of 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Since the start of the study, this figure has risen by 4.5%, and we are aiming to double year 1 figures by the end of the 5-year project period.

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