SINGAPORE - Playgrounds in 10 primary schools here will double in size by 2024, Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said on Tuesday (Jan 21), to encourage kids to be more physically active.
The current primary school playgrounds are 120 sq m and will be increased to 240 sq m. Work will begin in phases from this year.
Outdoor playgrounds in 16 Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens will also be expanded from 120 sq m to 160 sq m while all outdoor courts at primary and secondary schools will be refitted with acrylic-coated surfaces, which are more conducive and safer for physical activities and sports.
Mr Ong made these announcements during the opening ceremony of this year's National School Games (NSG) at the OCBC Arena at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Another 40 primary and secondary schools that do not have a covered basketball courts will be provided with shelters. This is part of the MOE's push to ensure that all schools here are equipped with at least three covered play courts (a multi-purpose hall, an indoor sports hall and a sheltered basketball court).
These enhancements to facilities in school will cost about $85m.
The ministry will also expand its efforts to offer more CCA opportunities for students, including sports. The limited number of places, especially in sports teams, has long been a bugbear of parents and students alike.
It will begin a pilot study with several primary schools to remove selection trials in a bid to let students participate in a co-curricular activity (CCA) of their choice. This applies to sports as well as other non-sports CCAs.
This comes as the MOE tries to encourage greater participation of kids in sports.
Last year, it tweaked the format of the NSG junior division (for pupils aged nine to 11). Among the changes were removing individual events in some sports, and rewarding participation instead of finishing first. These moves were to give children, even the less skilled, a chance to take part in the national games.
The MOE will also continue its three-year pilot, which began last year, on the feasibility of providing Strategic-Partnership CCAs (SP-CCAs) with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Under this programme, students are able to pursue their sporting interests and represent their school in national competitions, even if the school does not offer the sport as a CCA. Students also receive CCA points recognition.
The move was welcomed by both parents and a couple of major sports associations.
Ms Marina Tan, who has a daughter in Primary 5, said: "We should let students try out what they're interested in first because if they're interested in it, they're more likely to put effort into it.
"If you don't let them try it out first, they are trying out for things that are new to them so how would you know if they're good at it?"
Madam Toh Mong Chian agreed that it was a move in the right direction. Just this month, her daughter, who is in Secondary 1, had wanted to take up badminton as a CCA and went for her school's trial, but was eventually not selected and is still awaiting to see which CCA she is in.
Madam Toh, 48, said: "I feel like students should be allowed to enjoy school life and enjoy the CCA that they are in."
Cyrus Medora, chief executive officer of Netball Singapore, sees a long-term and big-picture benefit to the move. He noted: "This is excellent news. Let kids enjoy sports for I think this is what is missing from developing a sporting culture in Singapore.
"Let them develop their love of sport from their enjoyment of it. Then there isn't the pressure of winning at such a young age. And increase the time that sport is played for it develops character."
Football Association of Singapore deputy president Bernard Tan said: "This is an important move that will benefit all sports in Singapore, including football. It is an initiative that the FAS has discussed with the MOE and we are pleased that they have taken our suggestions and feedback into consideration.
"This will go someway to address declining participation rates in football amongst children, something that the FAS is trying to address.
"The FAS has been and is prepared to work with the MOE to help with the anticipated increase in participation that can be expected with these changes."'
A spokesman from Sport Singapore added: "We welcome the move as it encourages children to pursue their interest in sport.
"Multi-sport exposure at a young age has been shown to improve physical literacy and enhance propensity for sustained sport participation in life."