Forty-five children across three schools in Malta will take part in daily physical activity sessions throughout the scholastic year, as part of a pilot project to address the lack of exercise and overweight issues among students.
Students aged between seven and eight will participate in the pilot project, FunFit 5. The students will have daily 45-minute PE lessons from Monday to Friday.
The lessons will be conducted by professional coaches employed by the Malta Football Association (MFA).
FunFit 5 will start this month, October, and continue until May.
The research pilot project was announced by Education Minister Clifton Grima, alongside other stakeholders participating in Fun Fit 5, during a press conference on Saturday morning.
The project is being carried out by the Education and Sports Ministry, MFA, the foundation Inħobb il-Futbol (I love football), MCAST, FIFA, and UEFA.
During the press conference, the speakers all mentioned the importance of physical activity, yet all failed to mention the local obesity problem among school children.
Back in May, WHO report ranked Malta second among 53 countries for obesity and overweight adults. The report showed that Malta’s 11-and 15-year-old boys are the most overweight in the European region.
Grima expressed his hopes that the pilot project will be a way to address this growing concern.
“If we see the statistics, we have an issue with physical activity, which leads to obesity, and this is not something limited to children, but the population of Maltese and Gozitans,” Grima told Times of Malta.
He said the study will provide scientific research on the benefits of daily physical activity in school students.
“We hope that this project and the data provided will be the first step forward to introducing daily physical lessons to other schools and our educational curriculum, and help our children move more and improve their quality of life.”
Who will participate in FunFit 5?
Following a call to all government schools, three were chosen to participate in the research project;
San Ġorg Preca College Primary Pieta (22 students), St Thomas More College Żejtun Primary B (38 students), and St Nicholas College, Rabat Primary School (30 students).
The 90 Year 4 students will be split into two groups (45-45).
One group of students, the ‘treatment group’ will participate in daily exercise classes throughout the week, and the other, the ‘control group’ will have a PE session once a week with their own school PE teacher.
Why and how will research be conducted?
Dr Melanie Darmanin, a researcher in Community Services at MCAST, is one of the five researchers who will be studying the student’s participation and progress throughout the seven-month pilot project.
She said FunFit 5 was born out of a previous program that showed how many children lacked the basic fundamental physical skills.
Researchers will be studying the impact physical activity has on both groups, focusing on three aspects- the physical, the academic, and the well-being of the student.
At the beginning of the program, all students will be provided with a consent form and guidance on what the consent form includes. Researchers will take note of the children’s body weight, IQ levels, and their social and economic background.
She said the study will provide both quantitative and qualitative results, and include feedback not just from the students, but also teachers, LSEs, guardians, and parents.
Heathcliff Schembri, Dr Renzo Kerr Cumbo, Dr Matthew Muscat Inglott and Karl Attard (researcher from MFA), alongside Darmanin, will be conducting the research part of the project.
Exercise sessions will not replace academic lessons
Darmanin said the 45-minute sessions will not replace any lessons.
“These sessions will not replace the academic syllabus, that must still be carried out, and we are trusting the educators to be a bit flexible to make sure that the students can participate in these sessions.”
She said the exercise lessons will include ‘moderate to vigorous activity’ and will see children participating in games that will include throwing, catching, and jumping.
“We want to teach them the fundamental skills and instill a change in our children’s movement skills.”