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The most important acts, which contain provisions on physical activity promoting health and well-being, are the Constitution of Finland, the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity, the Health Care Act, the Local Government Act and the Youth Act. Under the Constitution of Finland, physical activity is a basic cultural right. The goal of the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity is, as the name suggests, to promote the well-being and health of the population and to support the growth and development of young people by means of physical activity. The Act defines physical activity promoting health and well-being as “all types of physical activity in the course of human life designed to maintain and improve the state of health and functional ability of the population”. Under the Health Care Act, municipalities must include health counselling in all health-care services and arrange health checks and advice for all age groups, including young people. In terms of young people’s physical activity, the Youth Act is also important. The promotion of a healthy lifestyle is one of its objectives, and youth work and youth policy of the municipalities include sports activities for young people.
On the Move – a national strategy for physical activity promoting health and well-being 2020
In the beginning of the millennium, close cooperation started between different administrative branches in the development of physical activity. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Education and Culture jointly appointed a steering group for health-enhancing physical activity (2011–2015). The steering group planned a joint strategy and an action plan for the promotion of physical activity. As a result, On the Move – national strategy for physical activity promoting health and well-being 2020 was published. The strategy was adopted in 2013 and lasts up to 2020. The strategy describes the current state of the population’s physical activity, the actions and objectives for physical activity as well as critical factors to achieve the objectives of the strategy. There are four main guidelines.
- Guideline 1. Reducing sitting in daily life in the course of life.
- Guideline 2. Increasing physical activity in the course of life.
- Guideline 3. Highlighting physical activity as a vital element in enhancing health and well-being, in the prevention and treatment of diseases and in rehabilitation.
- Guideline 4. Strengthening the status of physical activity in Finnish society.
The main purpose is to activate those people who engage in too little physical activity and to make the operating cultures of organisations more oriented towards physical activity during different stages of life. According to the strategy, measures are targeted at groups whose level of physical activity should be the greatest cause for concern and on whom few development measures have been focused. These groups include e.g. young people and families with children who are in the weakest socio-economic position, young people at the lower secondary level, and vocational students. The strategy displays several objectives and measures for actors at the national, regional and local levels.
The Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in cooperation with the steering group for health-enhancing physical activity are responsible for coordinating the follow-up. The follow-up and assessment are carried out as part of the work of the steering group. Reporting the follow-up is done as part of the follow-up on the government programmes and the annual reports of the ministries. Separate reports are produced in 2015 and 2019.
There are several programmes and projects under the national strategy that promote health-enhancing physical activity. One of the most important programmes specifically targeted at young people is Finnish Schools on the Move. It is a national action programme aimed at establishing a physically active culture in Finnish comprehensive schools. In 2017, the programme was expanded to upper secondary education and vocational upper secondary education and training. In 2018, more than 80 percent of comprehensive schools participated in the programme, implementing their individual plans in order to increase physical activity during the school day. The programme is a joint programme between the public sector and the third sector, funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Moreover, the Ministry of Education and Culture supports sport and physical activity among young people by allocating subsidies. These allocations are based on national guidelines on promoting physical activity, the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity and the Government Programme. Projects which target young people should emphasise especially females’ physical activity, which is lower than males’.
According to the School Health Promotion study, physical activity has increased among young people and the number of those who engage in too little physical activity has decreased.
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There are projects (e.g. Finnish Schools on the Move), which are aiming at increasing physical activity in educational institutions and to reduce time spent in a sedentary position. Therefore, sport and health education are important subjects in Finnish schools, but the purpose to promote physical activity is not limited to them.
According to the national core curriculums, sport and health education are mandatory subjects in single-structure basic education and upper secondary education. According to the national core curriculum for single-structure basic education, sport in lower secondary education supports pupils’ physical, social and emotional competences. The ability to take action and in finding sports as hobbies are important emphases in classes 7–9. The teacher must take pupils’ state of health and special needs into consideration when he or she plans teaching and evaluates performances. Health education emphasises comprehensive understanding of health and health promotion. People skills, identity and sexuality are themes as well as prevention of illnesses, stress and crises.
Sports and health education are mandatory parts of the national core curriculum for upper secondary education as well. According to the national core curriculum, sports supports healthy lifestyle choices and well-being whereas evaluation should not be based on a level of fitness. There are two mandatory courses (1 course = 38 lessons) and optional advanced courses available. There is one mandatory health education course for everyone, and it covers the basics of health. The course deepens the knowledge gained in lower secondary education and supports everyday life management. The national core curriculum for upper secondary education will be published in 2019.
Vocational upper secondary education and training does not have a common national core curriculum, which would be same for everyone regardless of qualification, but education providers follow guidelines and draw up curriculums according to them. A mandatory, competence-based study module called Maintaining working capability, sports and health education is part of studies in vocational upper secondary education and training, but its content and implementation may vary according to one’s qualifications. For example, it may be possible to carry out health education as an online course or to accept one’s free-time sport hobbies as credits in some cases. The goal is to teach skills and knowledge that young people need to maintain and develop their physical, social and mental ability.
The Cultural and Sports Association of Finnish Vocational Education and Training, SAKU, is responsible for developing physical activity among vocational students. The Finnish National Agency for Education, the Ministry of Education and Culture and SAKU have developed a professional’s work capacity pass. The purpose of the passport is to motivate students to improve their work and functional capacity on their own initiative already during their studies.
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National core curriculum for upper secondary school (in Finnish)
Several actors at national, regional and local levels have committed to the national strategy to promote physical activity. As mentioned above, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Education and Culture jointly appointed the steering group for health-enhancing physical activity. Especially in terms of young people, cross-sectoral approaches are emphasised. The third sector is actively involved in the implementation of the national strategy, and schools and municipalities cooperate in this area as well. For example, Finnish Schools on the Move programme is organised by the National Agency for Education, regional state administrative agencies and various other organisations, and it is part of the Government Programme in Finland. The Cultural and Sports Association of Finnish Vocational Education and Training, SAKU, cooperates with vocational education providers, and offers support and materials for them as part of the Finnish Schools on the Move project.