Dunya Tomic, Chief of Editorials and Publications PMSA
Due to the well-documented high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Pacific Islands, researchers are endeavouring to establish the levels of physical activity in children’s daily lives in order to determine whether this is a potential target for preventive intervention. There is a significant literature gap in this area and it is important to understand children’s contact with sport from their early years as this is likely to set up their level of physical activity in later life (1). The Solomon Islands are a specific area of interest due to the rising rates of diabetes, notably in children; 18 children have been diagnosed with diabetes in the region to date, with the youngest case occurring at only 5 years of age (2). The Solomon Islands have limited current resources for NCD prevention (3) and are still tackling a significant burden of malaria, which hinders the ability for health resource dedication to NCDs. In Fiji, although hospital admission rates for diabetes are declining, cardiovascular disease levels have increased by over 40% (4). Unlike the Solomon Islands, Fiji has a structured healthcare strategy plan, but the implementation of these plans is lagging. It is in the country’s best interest to address this issue as Fiji loses approximately $27 million, or 1.4% of GDP, due to the effects of NCDs (5).
In Fiji, education has developed over the past 150 years into a structured secondary schooling network. In 1970, only 13% of Fijian primary school children continued to secondary education, however, this figure rose substantially in 1999 to 47%. Fiji performs well with regard to schooling compared to many other Pacific nations including the Solomon Islands, where in 1997 it was shown that only 80% of teachers had undergone formal training (6). In Fiji, over 95% of secondary teachers and 99% of primary teachers are trained (7). Since Fiji has successfully established participation in schooling and teaching accreditation, focus is turning to the quality of education provided, including the presence of sport and physical education. In the current system, when exams are approaching for Fijian schools, physical education classes are cancelled as their benefits are perceived to be little or none (8). Schools are allocated 80 minutes per week for physical education and teachers are not specifically trained in this area, rather, they teach several general domains including music and art. In 1999, Fiji opened its first specialist course for physical education for teachers (8) and since then a two-year diploma program has been established.
Solomon Islands also has a physical education program in schools but this is sporadically delivered (9). A survey of Solomon Islands primary teachers showed that teachers lack confidence in teaching over 60% of what the physical education course actually entails (10). Several strategies have been suggested to improve the levels of physical activity in children across Fiji and Solomon Islands. School recess periods have not been targeted as potential sources of exercise and the benefits of play and movement in these periods should be emphasised. This should involve regulation of policy in order to ensure the time allocations for school breaks are not reduced as the trend has been suggesting over the years, as this is essential for students’ physical and also mental wellbeing. It has been found that television and electronic media usage are extremely high amongst Pacific Islander children and this needs to be monitored. Parents, teachers and community organisations need to work collaboratively in order to provide opportunities for exercise in children’s daily lives where possible. Additionally, the delivery of physical education in the curriculum needs to be assessed; as aforementioned, it is currently grouped with music and arts and not treated as a separate entity, which needs to change. The avenues for development of physical educators need to continue to become increasingly available as they recently have in Fiji; this needs to be employed across the entire Pacific especially in countries such as Solomon Islands that are lacking in these resources. Ultimately, a multifaceted approach involving the school, community and government levels will be essential in tackling children’s physical inactivity and minimising the burden of NCDs in the years to come.
Safrit, J. (1995). Youth fitness and fitness testing: How do they relate? In J. Safrit (Ed.), Complete Guide to Youth Fitness Testing (pp. 19–24). South Australia: Human Kinetics.
Marau, D. (2007b, November 20). Children dying from diabetes. Solomon Star, Retrieved from http://www.solomonstarnews.com/?q=node/15915
Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (2007a, October 27). Lifestyle diseases on the increase in Isabel Province. Retrieved 20 August, 2018, from http://www.sibconline.com/story.asp?IDThread=47&IDNews=20740
Snowdon, W., Waqa, G., Raj, A., Kanungo, A. & Robinson, H. (2013). Non–communicable diseases and health system responses in Fiji. Melbourne: The Nossal Institute for Global Health.
Szmedra, P., Sharma, K. L. & Rozmus, C. L. (2009). Health promoting behavior among chronically ill Pacificans living with non–communicable disease in Fiji, Nauru, and Kiribati. Pacific Health Dialog, 15(2), 55–65.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2000). The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Report. Apia, Samoa: UNESCO.
Tavola, H. (1991). Secondary education in Fiji: A key to the future. Institute of Pacific Studies. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific.
Bacchus, K. (2000). The quality of education and future educational needs of Fiji. In Fiji Islands Education Commission (Ed.), Learning Together: Directions for Education in the Fiji Islands (pp. 48–58). Suva, Fiji: Government Printers.
Australian Sports Commission (2004). Pacific Sporting Needs Assessment. Canberra: Paragon Printers.
Dorovolomo, J. (2004). The status of primary physical education in Solomon Islands. Pacific Curriculum Network, 12(2), 29–35.