PE teachers to face fitness tests

DUBAI // Unfit PE teachers have been given three years to shape up or ship out.

From next month all 1,500 physical education instructors in public schools in Dubai and the northern Emirates will have to take an annual fitness test to ensure they are setting a good example for pupils.

"We want to know what the teachers' fitness levels are," said Salam Kareem, sports programme coordinator of the PE department at the Ministry of Education.

"If the teachers are not healthy they cannot teach about being fit. Pupils learn from what they see and we cannot have them follow teachers who are unfit."

Teachers will take a pre-test every October to establish fitness levels and set targets and recommendations, and a full test the following April to gauge their progress.

Those who fail to reach the fitness targets will be given three warnings at 12-month intervals before they are dismissed.

The teachers will be asked to do push-ups, sit-ups and a sit-and-reach flexibility test. The number of repetitions and stamina will also be studied, taking into account the teacher's age.

A teacher aged between 30 and 39 is expected to do 41 or more push-ups in a set amount of time. Those able to do fewer than 13 will be deemed to be out of shape.

In the step test, teachers who manage 24 steps in one minute and continue for three minutes while maintaining a steady heart rate and blood pressure will be considered fit.

Mr Kareem said PE teachers were at varying levels of fitness, and many did not follow a healthy routine.

Hassan Lootah, head of the ministry's PE department, which was reinstated last year after being closed in 2007, said there would be no immediate consequences for teachers who did not maintain their fitness levels but that they would be constantly monitored.

"We will give them notice and they will get time to improve their health," he said. "The ministry will also work with them to get to their goal."

Mr Lootah said PE teachers had initially been recruited based on their skills in certain games.

"What we looked at was whether they can teach theory and lead a class," he said.

"But now we need to see whether they act and look fit, too."

Abdulla Ibrahim, a PE teacher at Omar Bin Khattab School in Dubai, said the assessments were a good way to challenge teachers.

"Some teachers tend to become lazy and lose track of their health goals," he said.

"If they know these tests are in place and that their job is on the line, they will make more effort to look after their body."

But Mr Ibrahim also believes the tests have to be fair. "It will not make sense if they are too strict, because we are not professionals taking part in sports competitions," he said.

"We are here to guide the pupils and increase their fitness, so we do not have to be an exact weight and height.

"Also, sometimes a teacher who may look fat is probably very good at a game, and faster."

Jamal Essa Almidfa, who oversees training programmes for teachers at the ministry, said there were "no excuses for PE teachers being unable to maintain their fitness".

"For our part, we are constantly conducting workshops to teach them new exercises so that they and the pupils can benefit."

He said the ministry had hired professionals to train the teachers in new games and upgrade their skills.

"We also plan to provide the schools with the necessary gymnasium equipment this year," he said.

Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, project manager at the Princess Haya Initiative for the Development of Health, Physical Education and School Sport, said this year that unfit PE teachers were hampering efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle among children.

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