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This article presents two programmes implemented in Finland addressing the need to increase physical activity among school-age children.
The Schools on the Move programme has been part of the implementation of the government programme in Finland three times and one of the Government’s key projects in knowledge and education between 2015 and 2019. The Finnish Schools on the Move programme is one of the key projects in the field of knowledge and education in the Government Programme of Finland. The aim of the programme is to achieve more active and pleasant school days.
From an international point of view, the Schools on the Move and Student on the Move programmes can be considered exceptional as it is not an intervention programme based on just one course of action.
The strategic management of the Schools on the Move programme is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish National Agency for Education. The programme is coordinated by LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health.
Schools on the Move is a Finnish research-based programme for promoting physical activity in schools. The programme has been developed in Finland since 2010 and has grown from a pilot of 45 schools into a project that covers more than 90 per cent of Finnish schools in basic education.
The objective of the programme is to increase physical activity among school-age children by making the school culture more active in various ways. Linking research and monitoring with the implementation of the programme, the strong bottom-up ideology of the school-oriented approach and the extensive cooperation networks have been central success areas in the implementation of the programme.
The main themes of the programme include supporting learning, enabling student participation, and increasing physical activity and decreasing excessive sitting.
According to schools’ own assessment, the most effective means of promoting physical activity at schools include organising Schools on the Move activities and recess activities. Every other participant school has added one long activity-based recess to their daily schedule. In addition, some schools have modified their facilities to increase physical activity, and schools also utilise their surroundings more to encourage physical activity and to support learning.
The principles of the Schools on the Move programme support the new National Core Curriculum, which entered into force on 1 August 2016. Schools on the Move activities have introduced elements of the new curriculum to schools already before the adoption of the new curriculum. According to school staff, increasing the level of physical activity during school days has increased enjoyment at school and ensured peaceful learning environment during lessons. Adolescents have also expressed a positive attitude towards increasing physical activity during school days.
According to international studies, increasing physical activity during school days can have positive impacts on several preconditions of learning (e.g. cognitive abilities, ability to focus, behaviour during lessons, enjoyment at school). Physical activity can be increased considerably without any negative effects on learning results in academic subjects. The role of students as organisers of more active school days should be increased. Increasing student participation is one of the main goals of the Schools on the Move programme
As a result of this programme, the school culture has become more physically active: a positive change has been observed in the organisation of activities and school premises, physical activity has been added to lessons and more attention has been paid to less active pupils.
The program adds movement to school day in the following ways:
- Activity integrated into teaching
- Break-time and recess
- Breaking sedentary time during lessons
- After-school clubs
- Other structured physical activity, for example theme days
- Physical education lessons
- Active journey to school by bike or walking
The Schools on the Move concept consists of different services related to making the school day more active. These services have been divided into three areas: creating an active culture, developing the pedagogy and increasing movement.
Creating an active culture
Adding movement to the school day requires changes in the school premises, official and unofficial rules, values and attitudes. What kind of school encourages children to be physically active? How can the change in the school culture be monitored, supported and managed?
Developing the pedagogy
The pedagogical competence of teachers is the strength of the Finnish education system. How can physical activity be integrated into lessons? How can the school yard and the neighbourhood be used in teaching? How can technology be made use of to add movement to lessons? What kind of support or knowledge do teachers need?
We have a wide array of measures that immediately add movement to the school day. For example, movement can be created by modifying the structure of the school day and by organising club activities, campaigns or physically active events. What is an activating school yard like? How should break-time physical activity be organised in the school?
Key results in Finland
- One of the government key projects during 2015-2019, programme covers 90% of the schools in Finland
- School day physical activity increased and sedentary time decreased in primary school students. (Pilot phase 2010-2012, 45 schools)
- Increased physical activity during recess and throughout the school day – 4% in primary schools and 12% at lower secondary schools.
- More recess time spent outdoors - among lower secondary school students. (Programme phase 2013-2015, 800 schools)
- Proportion of children meeting physical activity recommendation increased 5% in boys (30% => 35%) and 11 % in girls (18=>29%) from 2010 to 2018 based on surveys. (11 to 15 y) (Government key project phase 2016-2018, >2000 schools)
Student on the Move is a sister program to Schools on the Move, targeting upper secondary and higher education. The program aims to increase physical activity due to the following reasons:
- Increasing the level of activity supports (learning, participation and the sense of community)
- Reduced musculoskeletal problems
- Improved capacity to study and work
Students have a lot of sedentary time during the study day
Students in general upper secondary education remain sedentary approximately nine hours a day. About one in ten general upper secondary and vocational institutions have listed practices to reduce sitting and increase physical activity.
The aim of the Students on the Move activities is to:
- Increase physical activity among students and improve study ability
- Develop an operating culture that supports activity in educational institutions
- Increase cooperation between different actors
Schools on the move English research material and programme reports can be found here.
More information about the programme is available at: www.schoolsonthemove.fi
 Schools on the Move, ''Towards more active and pleasant school days''. Interim report on the Finnish Schools on the Move programme 2015-2016, p. 2, https://schoolsonthemove.fi/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/LK_va%CC%88liraportti_111017_en.pdf
 Schools on the Move, ''Creating an active school culture'', p. 3, https://schoolsonthemove.fi/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/KV-esite_210x210_netti.pdf