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A Global Perspective on Returning to Physical Education

A series of evolving steps taken by countries to re-open schools as the global pandemic has caused shutdowns around the world.

As the North America Chair for the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA), over the past few months I had the opportunity to work with several countries around the world through phone conversations, virtual meetings, webinars, surveys, and email communication regarding the status of physical education and physical activity, both during the lockdown as well as what are the plans when schools re-open.  The GREAT news is that every country values the importance of youth being physically active, and every location plans on bringing back physical education, recess, and school sports. To date, the most progressive plan in place is that of New Zealand, who opened schools with Physical Education during Phase 1 and now is completely re-opened during Phase 3.  Aside from the countries surveyed below, please note that specific conversations were also held with Brazil, China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

As schools around the world work on alternate plans to re-open schools following months of youth being sheltered at home with distance learning due to COVID-19, several consensus steps have been implemented globally following the best science available at the time.  In most countries, health ministries and health departments provide recommendations for school re-opening based on the status of COVID-19 in their communities. It is important to keep in mind that the steps taken today may look totally different in the upcoming months.

  1. The most common practice globally as schools plan to re-open is to maintain social distancing following the lockdown.  This involves placing desks at a minimum of six feet apart, partitioning off play areas in the gymnasiums and playgrounds, students eating in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria, and outdoor spaces used as often as possible for the delivery of instruction.  Denmark was one of the first countries to re-open schools and served as a global model.
  2. The use of hand sanitizer and often washing of hands with soap and water became the second most commonly practiced deterrent to the spread of COVID-19. In many locations, hand sanitizer stations were either placed at all doors or installed on the walls outside of all instructional areas.  In many cases, doors were kept open with a door stop to eliminate children touching the door handles.  In the Netherlands, plastic shields were also placed around student desks.
  3. Facemasks and face shields have also become a common practice as schools began to re-open.  In Montreal, as schools opened, staff were wearing visors; across France, teachers were wearing face masks.
  4. Shanghai and Cyprus added another layer of protection as they re-opened schools with temperature checks.
  5. Some schools opened with staggered grades at different starting points.  Melbourne allowed teenagers first into classrooms, with younger students starting later in the school year.  Other schools brought back high school students first so that they can prepare for their exams, while other countries phased in younger students first, and then older students at later dates.
  6. New Zealand had very stringent policies during Phase 1, and by following those policies and recommendations, they are now in full operation in Phase 3 with physical education in full operation.

Below are actual responses by countries across Europe through a survey with the assistance from a colleague in Spain.


During Lockdown:

Please be aware that it is only 0-5 grade who has been opening. PE Teachers organisation and several schools, sports organizations and private organizations have daily and weekly forwarded suggestions to activity alone or together with the family on internet/YouTube.

After Returning to School:

The PE teachers for the 0-5 grade are allowed to use all kind of park facilities or special nature areas which is normally locked down for public use.


During Lockdown:

According to Government decision No. 1102/2020. (III. 14.) school shall continue the school year under digital work schedule since 16 March. Even in the emergency situation caused by the virus, the education system must continue to operate, students must be given the opportunity to learn, and schools and teachers must adapt to the unexpected situation – including P.E.

There is no official guideline for holding P.E. classes, only expectation to try to keep national curriculum as much as it is possible in frame of the restrictions. 

Teachers were asked to provide information to students and their parents remotely, using online info communicational tools to the best of their abilities, to support students in learning, to mark the parts of the curriculum to be processed and to determine how to report. Those kids who do not have the appropriate IT hardware at home, may use the IT facilities in their schools. Textbooks were accessible for all, for free, online, in several HUBs. Online support, protocols and procedures were made accessible for students with speech impairment attending speech therapy, or student with special educational needs. It was recommended for schools/teachers to motivate their students with regular reporting – especially self-assessment and self-monitoring – through online assignments. Additionally, in order to avoid digital insecurity, online support was provided for teachers.

There were multiple methods regarding online PE lessons:

• YouTube links with age appropriate HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) examples,

• funny movements and FMS tasks;

• exercises and tasks that can be executed in a room (e.g. gymnastics with plastic bottles filled with water);

• easy and simple ways of assessing physical activity (e.g. activity diary);

• some recommendations about what qualities as PA, in addition with some general knowledge of fitness development and assessment/evaluation (e.g. Hungarian National Fitness Test – NETFIT);

• in some cases, inline lessons on a video platform (e.g. zoom)


• availability of IT recourses, knowledge (both teachers/students)

• checking activity of students,

• making assessments

Digital work schedule is obligatory not only for primary and high schools, but also for universities as well.

After Returning to School

Regarding schools:

Government announced that restart of the whole country will be held in more steps in the view of the spread of the virus, however these steps are still under development. According to present information, an announcement regarding schools and summer camps is expected in mid-May.

Official decision has not been made yet regarding reopening schools. Schools may be reopened on 2 June however it is less likely to happen as the official school year usually ends on 15 June. More likely to reopen schools in September.

Official decision has not been made yet regarding special measures and restrictions in schools in general.

However special decision made for those high school final examinations which were originally scheduled between May and June:

• Only written final exams will be held at high schools, oral exams will be held in exceptional cases, e.g. in P.E. the final exam will be only an oral one.

• Students have right to choose to do the examination now or to do it in autumn period.

• Schools shall prepare for the special circumstances (less student in each classroom, more space to keep social distance, extra cleaning etc.). 

Regarding Physical Activity in General:

Rules of Governmental Decree on restricting movement are still valid for Budapest and Pest county. That means people can leave their home only for justified reasons (e.g. work, shopping food, individual recreational sport, etc.).

In other counties, these rules were just withdrawn (4 May), slow reopening of shops, terrace of restaurants is permitted. 

Besides special regulations made for sport area which are applicable for the whole country:

• Official sport competitions, sport event can be held behind closed doors, without spectators.

• Participation in training organized by sport association, and for amateur sports, recreational sports and mass sports is permitted – behind closed doors, without spectators.

This could be an option for students, but regarding the fact that most of the relevant sport clubs, associations hold their trainings in the schools and schools are closed now, therefore this is still not an option for most of them.

Events in general:

All kind of events are forbidden in the whole country, events for less than 500 people cannot be held until 15 August.

Hopefully these rules will be revised soon and government gives more options and details on special measures and restrictions.


During Lockdown:

There has been no official communication from the Ministry on what needs to be done. Each school is free to organize itself freely.

In a school here is what has been done:

– teachers are doing online lessons, half of the scheduled hours (9 instead of 18)

– Video with explanation and demonstration of physical exercises

– videos with theoretical explanation, tales of sports culture of our country (the most important and famous athletes), tales/stories of sport and communication worldwide

– video lessons with physical activity all together – video lessons with theoretical explanation followed by quizzes

– PowerPoint presentations with visual and voice recording

The biggest problem is that of monitoring and evaluation. Somehow the teachers are trying to give homework, to keep them as monitoring tools.

After Returning to School:

Actually we only know that schools will be close until the end of the school year. Anything else 🙂


During Lockdown:

Physical Education has been delivered by PE teachers on-line, depending on school and opportunities they have. Some were sharing videos which can be found on YouTube with parents, and encouraging to share with children, others would prepare dedicated lessons, recorded or streamed to their students or ask to share their photos or drawings on how they are being active but still many children haven’t had any support regarding physical education. There is no solution coming from the government / ministry of education or no regulations whatsoever.

After Returning to School:

As for the 4th of May, we only know that kindergartens will open on the 6th of May and on the 24th of May – 1st to 3rd grade pupils. It is possible that the schools will not open before the next school year (September 2020). For those little children who will get back to class or kindergarten childcare there will be several safety measures such as – number of children limited to 12 and leaving the school / kindergarten area will be forbidden, but kids or teachers won’t be wearing facemasks and obviously keeping the distance won’t be possible, however attendance is not obligatory, it is more than anything solution for parents who need to get back to work.


During Lockdown:

Note: the schools opened today only for 11th and 12th grade; for all other grades, the schools will remain closed until next school year start.

Reply: The closure of schools coincided with the school holiday period (Easter). In that sense, schools had time to adapt their classes through various apps such as Zoom, Whatsapp, Google Teams. A special broadcast system was created on national TV, where classes from different disciplines, including PE, are ministered. These classes were developed for all school grades (from pre-school to 9th grade, a specific TV channel was created; regarding tertiary level – from 10th to 12th grade, there is also a specific tv channel to give these classes). PE teachers give classes adjusted to each grades on a regular basis during the week.

After Returning to School:

According to the Resolution of the Council of Ministers from Portugal DL 33-C / 2020, strategies were established for lifting the lockdown measures in the context of combating the pandemic COVID 19 disease, in a progressive and gradual manner, beginning on May 4 of 2020. On May 18, tertiary schools for 11th and 12th grade and pre-schools for 2nd and 3rd years will be reopened, from 10 am to 5pm. For the higher grades, the use of a mask, washing hands, social distancing (> 2 m distance) and reduction of number of students inside the classes are mandatory. For pre-school, reduction of number of children per class will be used along with masks utilization. During breaks, each children have to avoid direct contact when playing outside (>2 m distance) and no objects can be shared between them.


During Lockdown:

The schools organized the curricula for each class. They take place online. Physical education and sports teachers have adapted to this situation and created video tutorials for each age level. These were posted on school websites. YouTube links with various exercises were also recommended.

After Returning to School:

So far there is nothing concrete established regarding the development of physical education lessons starting with September 1st. The specialized commissions of the Ministry of Education are working on these issues.


During Lockdown:

For school kids they still have each they between tv classes PA of half an hour. For the rest, different online offers were available. Parks and gyms are open few days ago again but with a lot restrictions so not all of them are open.

After Returning to School:

So far kids will finish school online at the end of May, because they are having online classes, test and with their teachers are in contact so they can have the final results. Only kids of last year (8th grade of elementary and 4th grade of High school) will have test physical tests in June.


During Lockdown:

No PE classes. The Ministry supported webpage of one non-governmental organisation for organising the PE lessons 23rd of April –

After Returning to School:

In case of schools in general – there is plan for kindergardens and primary schools to be maybe opened soon but there no exact date and plan how it will look like (e.g. the size of the class should be half (from 20 to 10 children)?). For PE classes – do not have information at the moment. We have 0 new cases two days in row, so we can expect further lifting of the coronavirus measures to come soon. There is 4 phase plan here in Slovakia (currently we are in joint phase 2 and 3). View more information here.


During Lockdown:

Sometimes provided online, sometimes online resources are proposed to children, sometimes activity challenges are provided by the teachers. There is not a common guidance line for PE at schools given from the Government or the Autonomous Governments (as there is not for any other subject). Conclusion: No structured work.

After Returning to School:

Still not decided. New information is being shared every day. Today (May 4th), the Ministry of Education published an information in the way that, maybe, in September, kids will go back to schools in groups of about the 50% of the total amount of children that used to be in a classroom. The idea is maybe have a blended education with some children going to school on Monday and Wednesday and the others Tuesday and Thursday. The other days online learning will be provided (if possible).


During Lockdown:

It will have varied from school to school and so not really known.  The Youth Sport Trust released free online ‘Stay Home Stay Active’ resources for parents and teachers to use and we are delivering ‘Wednesday Webinars’ for PE teachers during lock down period.  Physical activity outdoors has only been allowed once a day and other than family members, everyone has been asked to observe metres social distancing.

After Returning to School:

It is still early days and we are due to hear the government’s plans for easing lock down at the end of this week/beginning of next.  Media speculation includes that there will be smaller class sizes to allow for social distancing, maybe half class attending school for the first half of the week and the other half for the second part or splitting across mornings and afternoons. More online learning is likely to have to take place.  There is also talk of temperature taking before any group activity can happen.

*As with all of these tentative plans mentioned above, things will be constantly evolving as localities monitor the immediate situation.

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