Children’s motor skills remain poor post-epidemic

Ljubljana – The fresh results of tests measuring the fitness of Slovenian primary school children show that their motor skills remain poor even after they switched back to in-person learning and PE classes. Experts urge decision makers to take immediate action as poor motor skills affect children’s health and their ability to learn.

The tests have found that since the beginning of the Covid epidemic, all types of children’s motor skills have deteriorated, especially endurance and coordination, Gregor Starc, the head of the national children’s fitness programme and associate professor at the Ljubljana Faculty of Sport, told a press conference as he presented this year’s partial results of pupils’ physical fitness.

Despite the normalisation of the school process this year, the results have not reached the level before the deterioration caused by the epidemic set in, although they have improved to a certain extent, he said.

The situation is a result of the declined school attendance due to Covid-related quarantines in the past year. This school year, boys have made up half of the lost fitness capacity, while girls have made up only a third. Children’s motor skills remain 10% worse than they were before the epidemic.

Compared to last school year’s data, primary school pupils have slightly improved their speed, endurance and strength, while flexibility has further deteriorated. This is linked to children’s declining mental health and an increase in stress, which makes them more tense and less flexible, Starc said.

Poor motor skills could lead to children’s poor academic performance, so he advises teachers to investigate whether children’s lower test scores are due to insufficient knowledge or insufficient time to finish tests.

He called on decision makers to immediately reintroduce a programme promoting healthy lifestyles and to introduce an additional hour of PE in primary schools every day.

Otherwise, the consequences for children’s health will be increasingly severe. “We predict that the share of acutely ill children, that is children who are frequently absent from school, will increase from 11% to 20% already in the next school year,” Starc warned.

In the long term, the damage will be even greater, said Gregor Jurak, a professor at the faculty and head of the SLOfit research group, calling for schools to remain open.

All Slovenian primary schools took part in the fitness measurements, and so far around 50% of all results have been analysed.