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Some schools suspend fitness tests after pupil's death in Espoo

Salo, Turku and Imatra have followed the city of Espoo by temporarily suspending fitness tests pending the results of a probe into the death of a young student last week.

Tiistilän koulu.
The Finnish flag was lowered to half-mast at Tiistilä School in Espoo after a pupil died following a fitness test last week. Image: Ronnie Holmberg / Yle
Yle News

Preliminary reports from the city of Espoo indicate that the Tiistilä School acted in accordance with guidelines laid down by the National Agency for Education in administering a fitness test that apparently claimed the life of a student last week.

“It does not seem that the school would have deviated from the guidelines,” said Espoo city education director Aulis Pitkälä. However she added that nevertheless, the so-called Move! fitness assessments had been temporarily suspended at all schools throughout Espoo.

During the incident that took place last Thursday, an eighth grader at the upper comprehensive school was performing a test that involves running back and forth over a 20-metre distance at increasing speed. The assessment aims to gather data on the physical performance of pupils in grades five through eight. The test evaluates mobility, endurance and muscle tone.

However the student fell ill during the session and was taken to hospital, where he later passed away. According to Pitkälä, the school had no way of foreseeing that the youngster would fall ill.

“The school had no information that [the student] had any health problems,” she noted, adding that police will provide information on a possible cause of death.

Other schools put tests on hold

Schools in other parts of the country have since put the fitness tests on ice, with the city of Turku suspending the evaluations pending a thorough report on the events in Espoo. The city of Salo has also followed suit.

Meanwhile authorities in Imatra called off the tests on Monday as a precautionary measure, but they will resume on Tuesday.

The National Agency for Education said Monday that for the moment it will not stop the Move! fitness tests. Education ministry counsellor Matti Pietilä said that officials will now have an in-depth discussion on the situation before making a final decision on how to proceed. However he said that it is unlikely that the tests would be discontinued completely.

“Move! is a pedagogical tool. If we were to order the tests to stop immediately, would we also be terminating all physically demanding activities in schools?”

He pointed out that increasing activity is one of the goals of physical education in schools.

"Too early for decisions"

Meanwhile the National Agency for Education has called on schools to faithfully follow the guidelines provided in the teachers’ manual to safeguard their students’ health.

"It’s very important for physical education teachers to get accurate information from parents or the school nurse on how to proceed based on students’ health,” Pietilä commented.

So far the education agency has discussed the test with Espoo school officials, the Ministry of Education and Culture and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Pietilä said that the authorities are approaching the situation calmly and with due gravity.

“There are very important decisions ahead. The outcome will have to be properly justified. News about the sad case in Espoo reached us yesterday afternoon, so it is very early to make any decisions.”

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