Plans to review, and possibly improve the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) and the National Physical Fitness Assessment (Napfa) – in the report “Review Of School Fitness Tests” (November 4, 2011) by Miss Kimberly Spykerman – are well-intentioned and considerably plausible. From the perspective of a Singaporean male who has gone through these physical assessments in school and during National Service (NS), three key areas deserve attention: first, the lack of exposition on the purpose and objectives of the test; second, the perceived redundancy of particular stations; and third, the pedantic adherence towards generalised standards that do not reflect a person’s true ability.
Improving Areas Of Inadequacy
One of the biggest problems that plague IPPT – and the preceding Napfa – is the fact that they place arbitrary indicators and values on what it means to be “fit” or “unfit”. None of my Physical Education (PE) teachers or unit representatives have been able to convincingly explain the usefulness of the tests; all I was told was that I just had to do well so as to avoid a longer NS commitment, and not attend remedial training (RT). These may be fitness tests in names, but we could do more to elaborate on the significance of stations – cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength et cetera – and highlight the importance of lifelong fitness to encourage participants.
Lack of information about the respective stations has led many to believe that some segments – especially sit-and-reach and standing broad jump (SBJ) – are unfair and redundant. Anecdotally, I have friends who run marathons or spend long periods of time training in the gym, but struggle with – and even fail – the aforementioned components. In every other circumstance beyond the structures dictated by IPPT and Napfa, they would definitely not be classified as “unfit” in any way.
The Woes Of Categorisation With IPPT And Napfa
Inherently, IPPT and Napfa prescribe general aggregated standards for its servicemen and students to aspire towards; unfortunately, this system of measurement fails to take into account the observation that different people have dissimilar all-round physiological capabilities. The distinction is more pronounced for NSmen who have long graduated from the school or NS training regime, and are correspondingly bogged down by the assorted pressures of work, lifestyle and family. Because of its inflexibility and purported inconvenience, many naturally view IPPT as a needless burden than as a constructive platform for the maintenance of their fitness levels.
The present system of IPPT and Napfa should be refined to take into account the progress and improvements made by students and servicemen; instead of grading them based on the chart per se, criteria for RT and the assignment of the “passing grade” should take into account his or her progress over a period of time. The ultimate aim should be to allow them to build up their physical abilities consistently, progressively and realistically; pure dependence on the carrot-and-stick mentality should not remain the way forward.
Moving ahead, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) should be proactive in terms of gathering feedback from its stakeholders, so as to get a more accurate understanding of the status quo within the institutions, as well as present first-hand perspectives. A proper comprehension of sentiments would allow the organisations to make more judicious and useful improvements to IPPT and Napfa; change must be the new constant.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.