MOE reminds schools to be vigilant about student safety after PE deaths

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Education (MOE) has issued a circular to schools reminding them to stay vigilant about student safety during Physical Education lessons and co-curricular activities (CCAs), after two students died last week during PE lessons.

In particular, they highlighted the need for PE teachers — including substitute teachers — to stay updated on students’ pre-existing medical conditions and said it was important to have teachers and school personnel trained and confident to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The email circular, sent by MOE Deputy Director for Physical and Sports Education Ong Kim Soon to school leaders on Thursday, told schools to carry on with PE classes but to remain vigilant.

They were also told to pay attention to students who may be unwell and those who have just returned from medical leave. “Excuse these students based on a doctor’s recommendations. Where a doctor’s recommendations are not available, err on the side of caution,” Mr Ong said. Physical activities should be introduced gradually and be appropriate for the students’ fitness and proficiency levels, he said.

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Last Monday, a 16-year-old student from Tanglin Secondary School died after jogging during a PE lesson. Two days later, a 13-year-old student from Temasek Junior College who had felt unwell during his PE class died after fainting. These incidents occurred only two weeks into the new school term.

While the MOE does not mandate all teachers and school staff be trained in first aid, its School Safety Handbook states that teachers-in-charge should be conscious of the risks associated with PE and CCAs. Schools can tap the MOE’s Risk Assessment and Management Systems to identify risks and develop measures to mitigate them.

School officials TODAY spoke to concurred, adding that they send all their teachers for first aid training.

Xingnan Primary School Vice-Principal Quek Swee Nee said PE teachers and those in charge of sports CCAs would be given priority for first aid classes. Since the incidents, the school has briefed PE teachers and those in charge of sports and dance CCAs to progressively build up the fitness of students, who might have been inactive during the holidays, he said.

Indeed, Ms Noorulain Sheik Mohideen, 46, an administrator, said she had been alarmed by the strenuous exercise her daughter was put through — running and sit-ups — in her first few PE lessons. After reading about the students’ deaths, she wrote to her daughter’s school to remind them of her daughter’s severe sinus condition.

Singapore Sports School Principal Tan Teck Hock said he has told teachers to increase the level of the physical activities gradually. He added: “It is important not to overreact and be confident to carry out lessons normally as long as safety measures are in place.”

At Ang Mo Kio Secondary School, students’ medical records are updated yearly, said Principal Abdul Mannan. Asked whether guidelines on student safety needed to be enhanced, he said current guidelines are sufficiently extensive and that all the teachers and non-teaching staff in his school are well-acquainted with emergency response procedures.

Parents TODAY spoke to said they were concerned by the deaths, but acknowledged they had a part to play. Said Ms Samantha Chng, 40, a homemaker: “I told my sons to tell their teachers if they are sick, and not be bothered by what their friends might say. This could be about life and death”.

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