There has long been concern about the insufficient physical activity and excessive screen time of children and adolescents. Both the previous Government Programme and the present one include policy statements addressing the challenges of insufficient physical activity. The previous Government Programme set an objective for an hour of physical activity a day and the present one states that an increasing number of children should be involved in physical activities after school hours, according to the so-called Icelandic model. This research-based model originated in the 1990s and, among other things, seeks to decrease young people’s use of intoxicants and prevent potential problems. In Finland, the purpose is to adopt from the model the part that offers every child a chance to pursue physical activities in connection with the school day.
Although both initiatives are welcome and with adequate resourcing will certainly increase physical activity, they remain faced with the same problem: not all children are reached by these measures. Physical activities during the school day typically activate those children who already otherwise have healthy levels of physical exercise. At the same time, more passive children remain outside these activities, so the measures fail to reach them.
The same challenge applies to the implementation of the Icelandic model: how to activate the most passive children?
These challenges also emerged in our study on primary school children. Using acceleration sensors, we compared pupils’ physical activity during and after school hours. In addition, we also studied their physical activity during physical education (PE) classes. We divided the children into three groups according to their body mass index: normal weight, overweight, and obesity. The results of the study showed that the children with normal weight engaged more in brisk physical exercise during and after the school hours than did the other groups. In contrast, during PE classes no such groupwise differences were found. The study indicates that PE classes reach pupils quite equally and generate brisk physical exercise irrespective of the pupils’ body mass indices.
PE is a curricular activity, which reaches all pupils and is provided by educated professionals. The activities taking place after school hours are extracurricular and therefore voluntary for the pupils. Hence, school and sport club activities and other such practices in line with the Icelandic model are facing a challenge: How to get all children involved? The Icelandic model also includes many other challenges, including how to take regional equity into account, how to deal with pupils dependent on school transport, and seeing that they have chances to participate in afterschool activities. Another interesting challenge involves facility resources, namely, finding facilities for all the pupils engaged in these activities. At present the gymnasiums of many schools are inadequate for providing physical activities for even medium-sized groups.
The first policy account for physical activity was published in autumn 2018. It briefly mentions the Icelandic model as well. The same document includes a clear action proposal for a gradual increase of PE at school in the 2020s. Although statements about PE as a form to provide physical activity equally for all children irrespective of their home background or available resources were left out of the Government Programme, the Icelandic model is mentioned. What if the action proposal for increased PE at school could be implemented by adapting the Icelandic model?
In line with the spirit of the present school curriculum, the activities would be based on supporting the pupil’s autonomy and collaborative success. The activities would take place under the supervision of a safe and familiar educational professional.
Kasper Salin and Mikko Huhtiniemi
Kasper Salin is a post-doc researcher and Mikko Huhtiniemi is a PhD student at the Faculty of the Sport and Health Sciences.
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