Ensure children’s safety in school PE activities (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 6, 2012)

There seems to be no end to the tragic loss of children’s lives in physical education activities at school.

Over a 12-year period ending in fiscal 2009, 470 students lost their lives due to accidents during PE or club activities. In the same period, 120 students suffered injuries that resulted in serious disabilities, according to a report compiled by a panel of experts at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

The number of these incidents has been declining, but accidents leading to fatal injuries of children must not be allowed to happen at all at school, a place where children should be safe. It is only reasonable that the panel in its report made a renewed call to schools to reexamine their safety measures.

Sudden deaths account for more than 70 percent of fatal incidents involving students at schools, particularly in such sports as basketball and running. Most reported sudden deaths occurred when students collapsed during long-distance runs or relays and suffered cardiac arrest.

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Previous illnesses a factor

Twenty percent of children who died suddenly reportedly had illnesses such as heart disease. If instructors had paid extra attention to such students, fatal incidents could have been avoided.

It is important for teachers, parents and family doctors to cooperate to grasp the health condition of children.

Countermeasures against heatstroke are also necessary.

Due to scorching heat this summer, many students have collapsed during their club activities in the summer recess. To prevent such incidents, it is essential to have students take in an adequate amount of water and salt and take breaks. On extremely hot days, vigorous exercise should be avoided.

The report also referred to the danger of brain damage. In particular, such sports as judo and rugby–in which players often come into violent contact with each other–are risky. A shock to the head can tear a vein between the skull and the brain, resulting in a hemorrhage.

It is important for instructors to acquire adequate medical knowledge and promptly seek an examination at medical institutions if they see any abnormal changes in their students.

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Martial arts required

From this fiscal year, students will be required to study a martial art as part of PE classes at middle school, with 64 percent of the nation’s schools opting for judo. Many of these schools will launch their martial arts class this autumn or later. Female students are also required to take martial arts classes. Extreme attention must be paid to implementing proper safety measures.

The number of serious injuries and deaths among first-year middle and high school students during judo club activities is particularly high.

Attention must be paid to accidents involving beginners of judo who have yet to learn how to fall properly. PE teachers must take a safety-first approach to prevent head and neck injuries.

An education ministry survey revealed that as of the end of April there were about 800 schools whose facilities for judo classes were not safe.

Local boards of education must strictly monitor the readiness of schools to introduce judo classes, and schools that are not prepared should not be allowed to start the classes.