Water Competence

Research – Department of Teacher Education

Water Competence

There are several reasons why one should learn both swimming and water-related rescue activities. One is being able to save him-/herself if an unforeseen situation should occur in relation to water. Other reasons, which are probably just as important, are the vital role in which water can contribute to life long enjoyment of being physically active, and the social experiences it can provide with friends while reciding in, on and by the water. Being able to both swim and handle him-/herself in water is a vital skill which all children and youth should learn in school. 

Unfortunately, focus on and development of swimming skills and life-saving work have for many decades received little attention. As a result, too many people cannot swim and it may have contributed to the high number of drowning related accidents in Norway. According to the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescues statistics, 102 people drowned in 2018. In comparison, 108 people died in traffic-related accidents. Most drowning related accidents occur either close to shore, boat, docks or other rescue opportunities. National authorities aim to improve this situation, and in 2015 competence aims dealing with swimming and life-saving for the Physical Education Curriculum were adjusted and made more concrete. In addition, the Government launched 6 measures to improve teaching of swimming.

Teacher Education at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has followed up with several innovative educational initiatives aimed at those studying to become a teacher, teachers in schools and pupils. The target audience for these initiatives is those studying to become a teacher as well as pupils from all grades in the school system. WATER COMPETENCE  is a development project that makes it possible to scale and ensure the quality of teaching in swimming and life rescue activities in line with the revised Physical Education curriculum from 2015. In addition, we are well prepared to address the new proposed water-related competence aims which most likely will be part of the new Physical Education curriculum set to be initiated fall 2020. One proposal is to enhance the focus on outdoor training. 

The teaching of swimming is the foundation of all survival related to water. Even so, we`ve had a tradition of removing ourselves from the realistic environments when training to develop swimming and life-saving related skills. As a consequence of the latest revisions made in the Physical Education curriculum, teaching and swimming should no longer be confined to just indoor pools. When the Ministry of Education and Research in 2015 revised and changed the competence aims for swimming and life-saving in schools, they were more clearly and concretely presented:

  • After fourth grade, the 10-year-old should be able to swim 200 meters, on the abdomen and on the back, roll around in the water, float for three minutes, and be able to dive and get up to shore. Those who manage this, according to definition are able swimmers. 
  • After seventh-grade pupils should be able to travel safely in, on and by the water under different weather conditions. This means that they will also learn to travel outdoors.
  • After tenth grade, pupils should be able to use different swimming techniques as well as explain and perform life-saving and first aid.

The curriculum is quite ambitious and clear on that swimming not only revolves around swimming 200 meters in a heated pool. Pupils shall also learn how to travel safely by, on and in the water – indoors and outdoors. To achieve such competence, one must also practice in natural and authentic surroundings. That means outdoors, in cold water, currents and on slippery rocks, where most accidents happen. By experiencing what it feels like to fall into the water with clothes on, in cold water, or what will happen if one falls through the ice and has to save him-/herself again, you are prepared in the event of such a situation. Swimming and life rescue training must, therefore, take place both indoors and outdoors. In the curriculum, there is a distinct progression that starts with swimming indoors and ends with life rescue outdoors. A survey to answered by schools in Norway, however, shows that few schools practice outdoors (Waagen, Vaagland, Larsen and Federici, 2018). This despite the competence aims being quite clear on what is to be practiced. 

NTNU's Teacher Education has, through four concrete actions, tried to change the practice described above. Two of the measures revolve around the use of digital devices, one aimed at newly arrived immigrants and the latest towards competence building and networking.

Buoyancy - the uniqe feeling

Toggler Water Competence

We have chosen to use and develop the app Actioswim in conjunction with the teaching method described further down. The teaching design utilizes smartphone technology (application/app) and video, as well as reverse teaching ("flipped classroom") as a methodical approach in the pool and by water.

The app Actioswim allows for new opportunities in the teaching of swimming. The app has over 250 video tutorials/Movies in HD format and contains what you need to reach the learning objectives of the 4th, 7th and 10th grade. With a large screen, ipads or smartphones in the swimming pool, teachers/instructors have the opportunity to communicate their movement tasks in a correct and efficient manner. Students can see the work tasks before, during and after, and there will be less instruction and more guided practice. Parents and guardians have the opportunity to practice at home or prepare for teaching by reviewing the resources at the forefront of their teaching. Where there is a need to hear speech, you can choose your preferred language. Currently, the app is translated into Swedish and English, but it will eventually be available in Spanish, Arabic and Chinese. 

As a result of that described above, we have made changes in our focus and in the way we teach swimming and water safety at NTNU. The changes are small but important, and they have led to what we believe to be a quality elevation in the teaching of swimming and water safety. One of these changes is the use of reverse teaching by the help of the previously mentioned app Actioswim.

According to the learning outcomes description for Physical education in elementary school teacher Education, it says that the candidate should be able to teach swimming in grade 5–10 and perform life-saving first aid and life-rescue in water. Students at NTNU have lessons both in the pool and outdoors. The goal is for students to be able to conduct safe and effective training with pupils in school both outdoors and indoors. As part of the project, we have intervened on the sessions of life-saving. The framework for a number of teaching lessons and assigned resources are given, so it is important for students to get the most out of their training. Reverse teaching is a way to optimise the time in the pool, where films are used in the preparation, during teaching and afterwards for reflection. There are often didactic challenges related to the instruction of individual movements and movement patterns in water, and neither images, text nor instructions on land are well suited. Visual aids (films), which can also show correct movement above and below the water can, therefore, help to increase the quality. In addition, this opens up opportunities to improve cooperation with the home and leisure arena.

Unfortunately, many of those who drown come from cultures where teaching and development of swimming and water related skills are not practiced. Water Competence is a project aiming to provide teaching of swimming for all those who currently are not able swimmers.

According to a survey from Statistics Norway (2017), many leisure activities take place in proximity to various aquatic environments. Often used activities are swimming, fishing, kayaking and rowing. In Norway, the use of outdoor activities is generally understood as an inclusive arena and presents an opportunity to learn and understand parts of the Norwegian community and culture. In this context, Water Competence describes a versatile knowledge, awareness and movement competence in water, aiming to prevent drowning accidents, but also provide the prerequisits for participation in an important aspect of the Norwegian culture.

Participants in our project are women and men aged 20 – 65 years, from six nationalities (Syria, Eritrea, Russia, Brazil, Thailand and the Philippines). Participants are recruited through an adult training program, where outdoor activities are actively used in education. We have conducted outdoor swimming and life rescue training focusing on promoting participants' competence in, by and on water. Results from the intervention are collected through observations and interviews with the participants, during and after each session. The first round of the data material is analyzed and published in 2019.

The Norwegian Directorate of Education and Training recommends that all teachers working in, by or on water shall have an annual life-rescue test (2015, 1-2008). A separate test for teaching in water outdoors is further recommended. To date, there has been no good system for conducting such training, which has led teachers to keep the teaching of swimming indoors only. In turn, schools may not dare to bring pupils to different aquatic environments outside. They avoid it because they believe the risk is too high. The focus of this sub-project has been on creating a training and competence system that allows such training to be implemented and that teachers achieve a sense of safety and competence to carry out such training. The need for a competence training system with documentation seems initially to be needed in schools and kindergartens. This is because they are required to create an internal regulation and that in this context is central to documenting what expertise the business possesses. With few pools available and little pool time for each school, one can achieve great benefits by moving parts of the teaching outdoors. The training becomes authentic, safer, and children and young people acquire valuable experiences through their school offerings. VÅTTKORT- Life-Rescue is an education and competence system that starts with a life-rescue test outdoors and finishes with education aimed at certification of supervisors. The system follows the same model as the VÅTTKORT paddling.

NTNU has implemented lifesaving training in teacher education, created course plans and will ensure quality education in the various levels of the educational ladder. The new national competence and training system will ensure a unified understanding of what is to be learned, what can be expected. It will contribute to a transparent training system, better access to instructors/teachers, as well as contribute to research-based knowledge on how to avoid drowning accidents. Registration in the VÅTTKORT base takes place in cooperation with the Norwegian Paddle Association where they have trained over 130.000 paddlers throughout Norway since 2006. The system is secured in relation to GDPR guidelines.

Other members in the research project

  • Borgar Ness, Verdal municipality
  • Thomas Pindard, Norges Padleforbund