Physiological workload, musculoskeletal injuries and dysfunctions amongst physical education teachers in Singapore schools - A prospective investigation

Project Number
OER 07/16 SM

Project Duration
August 2016 - June 2019


Physical education (PE) is an integral part of Singapore school curriculum with trained PE teachers to deliver the lessons with quality and rigor. While safety of students during PE and sports in the school environment has generated active interest amongst policy makers and practitioners, much less attention has been drawn to the occupational demands, safety and workload-related musculoskeletal dysfunctions amongst the PE teachers. Physical educators’ expend high energy levels and their workload is as demanding as those of forestry, farm and construction workers. The high energy expenditure of PE teachers (PETs) is due to physical activity and sports involvement, dynamic supervision, perform moderate to high-intensity activities like running, demonstrating sports skills, practicing and playing with the students. Moreover, PETs are far more likely than other subject teachers to undertake potentially risky activities like mechanical shocks of running and jumping, asymmetrical body movements while demonstrating techniques and skills and inadequate postures like in gymnastic activities. Such heavy workloads have led to a high prevalence injuries and degenerative musculoskeletal dysfunctions. These conditions manifest as movement limitations, adapted teaching (fewer demonstrations), greater work absenteeism compared to reference population, change of work and work tasks and only a small proportion of PETs being able to continue working till the official retirement age. The Ministry of Education Singapore and the Physical Education and Sports Teacher Academy strive towards nurturing a community of passionate and skillful PE teachers and develop practices leading to a high quality PE and sports being delivered in schools. However, this vision and core functions are realisable only if the PE teacher is in an optimal state of physiological and musculoskeletal functioning. PETs in primary and secondary schools in Singapore usually teach 180-240 minutes of PE every day. At times they are required to teach 240 mins without a break. Such heavy physiological workload increases the risks of musculoskeletal injuries and dysfunctions in PETs in Singapore schools. The inclusion of added components in the new PE curriculum can be expected to further add to the existing workloads. Despite suggestive evidence, there is apparently no published data on physiological workload, musculoskeletal injuries and dysfunctions among PETs in Singapore schools. The proposed study will determine the physiological workload during a typical work week, the prevalence of musculoskeletal dysfunctions, the incidence of new acute, recurrence and aggaravated musculoskeletal injuries in PETs during a one school year period. The results of the study will serve to inform the policy and practice in PE on measures to be undertaken to optimize the workload and minimize the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries and dysfunctions to enhance the safety and sustainability of PE teachers’ career in Singapore schools.

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