One middle school in Yongsan, central Seoul, shares its playground with a high school. Every Monday morning, roughly 200 students from six classes from a middle and high school jointly conduct their physical education lessons. Rows of students standing at arm's length easily fill the playground. By Byun Sun-goo
Kim Minjae, a seventh grader at Shinnam Middle School, western Seoul, is one of the school's rising track stars. He won a bronze medal at the National Youth Sports Festival in May for the 800-meter (0.49-mile) race.
But you wouldn't think he would be so fast if you saw where he trains every day.
For practice, Kim stands behind the school gate. When he gets the "go" signal from his coach, he sprints along the sidelines of the school grounds and then turns the corner around the school until he reaches the 200-meter mark.
"The school track is too small for us to practice. Unless we rent a sports facility outside of the school, this is how we train every day", said coach Lee Jonghyun.
The playground where Kim practices is shaped like a triangle, about 4,700 square meters (5,621 square yards) in area, about two-thirds of a soccer field. As the school has no indoor sports facilities, a total of 32 classrooms conduct their physical education classes on the field.
When the JoongAng Ilbo visited the school on June 8, 130 students from four classes were simultaneously having their physical education classes.
"We get hit by balls often since so many students use the area", said Park Hyun-jin, an eighth-grade student.
Over 4,605 schools, or 40 percent, out of a total of 11,492 schools nationwide lack gyms or other indoor assembly halls, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said.
In other words, four in 10 schools in the country have to cancel their physical education lessons during inclement weather and keep their students inside.
Another matter is the size of school grounds. Among schools in Seoul, more than one-third of elementary schools, 212, and 19.9 percent of middle schools, 75, have playgrounds less than half the size of a soccer field. A little more than one-fifth of high schools in Seoul, 66, have the same problem.
"Physical strength among teenagers has gradually declined due to lack of sports facilities and strong pressure on college exams", said Kim Yong-hwan, chairman of the Korean Society of the Study of Physical Education.
Another middle school in Yongsan District, central Seoul, shares its playground with a high school and lacks other sports facilities besides the field.
The size of the playground is 5,204 square meters. Every Monday morning, four classes from high school and two from middle school conduct their physical education classes at the same time.
During class on the morning of June 18, students were seen carefully passing balls, wary of hitting others due to the small and crowded area.
"I am always afraid of hitting senior students with balls while playing", said a seventh-grade student surnamed Choi.
"Activities like volleyball, handball and badminton should be conducted indoors, but since we have no indoor facilities for those sports, I have no choice but to let students play on the crowded grounds", said the school's gym teacher.
"It is also regrettable that I have to keep students in the classroom whenever there is rain or snow outside".
Compared to Japan, where eight in 10 schools have gyms and the majority of elementary schools are equipped with swimming pools, education institutions in Korea fall way behind in the number of sports facilities.
Among 11,492 schools nationwide, only 7.9 percent have separate gyms while 52 percent have assembly halls that can be also used as gyms. The rest, 40 percent, have no indoor facilities for exercise. Less than 200 schools in the country, 176, have swimming pools, the education ministry said.
"Because of the monsoon season and a wide discrepancy in temperature changes in Korea, schools do really need indoor gyms and other sports facilities to ensure students have the right amount of physical activities", Yu Woong-sang, head of the Educational Facilities Research and Management Center, told the JoongAng Ilbo.
The lack of space and facilities has led to reduced time for physical activities for students.
A 40-minute disparity in the length of exercise time was found between two groups of male students, according to a survey conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.
One group with outdoor facilities shows a daily average of 124.8 minutes of daily exercise while the other group with no playground averaged 84.6 minutes of exercise per day.
Students are now showing reduced physical strength compared to their counterparts a decade ago. Records from 2009 show it now takes 40 more seconds for a male middle school student in Seoul to finish a 1,600-meter run, at 9 minutes and 23 seconds, compared to how their counterparts performed in 1999.
In an attempt to extend the range of physical activities for students, the education authority is urging schools to cooperate with district offices in using sports facilities built for residents, but school principals argue the ministry doesn't understand the reality.
"I asked a local district office a number of times if the school could use its sports facilities for an intramural athletic meet but was denied every time", said a vice principal of an elementary school in northern Seoul. "I had no choice but to cancel this year's sports event".
One elementary school in southern Seoul, however, illustrates what a school can do in cooperation with a district office to promote health curriculum for students.
Students at Nonhyeon Elementary School in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, can enjoy swimming and go to a gym, thanks to a newly built sports facility.
The four-story swimming pool and gymnasium facility was built last year. A construction budget of 20 billion won ($17.26 million) was funded both by the Gangnam District Office and the Seoul Education Office.
The joint project between district offices and schools has become part of the solution to resolve the shortage of sports facilities. As funding for such construction goes well beyond the reach of a school's financial capacity, the district office can sponsor the project while the school provides a building site.
"Public sports facilities should be more open to students in the short run. Over the long term, a gradual increase in funding for basic infrastructure such as gyms and tracks is needed", said Lee Jae-lim, professor at the Korea National University of Education.
By Special Reporting Team [[email protected]]
Source : koreajoongangdaily.jo... ( English Korean )
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