Physical Education in Schools

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. How about, all study and no PE makes Jack and Jill in to underachievers – even in their studies.

When it comes to the issues of physical wellness and physical education we really have got ourselves in a fine mess in the education field. However, I believe it’s time we started getting rational and working our way out of these things. After all, aren’t we, the educators, the people who have held ourselves out to have the knowledge, wisdom and experience to prepare children and young people for their future lives?

Yet, what do we see? At the worst such evidence as;

a) Indian Supreme Court has to threaten schools with dire consequences if they continue to allow junk food and drinks to be sold through school canteens,
b) Students convinced/ cajoled in to not being sport or being physically active because they have Board exams coming up, even when that sport has featured as a prominent part of their life,
c) PE lessons as the first thing sacrificed when a child is given remedial teaching (because the standard lessons didn’t meet their needs),
d) Withholding of right to do PE and sport as a punishment when there are discipline issues,
e) PE and sport programmes amongst the first to be axed in State education systems when there are budgetary constraints.

Less obvious, but equally damaging are the ways that PE is treated and seen in school as a form of ‘light relief’ that excuses away any boredom in the academic classes. Next, from a very young age too many schools and PE teachers are seeing PE as pre-sport, rather than as a fundamental subject that teaches children about their body, exercises it and stimulates it and ensures that it is flexible, adaptable, strong and supported by a healthy cardio-vascular systems to enable it to perform at its optimum.

Children move out from their classrooms for a PE lesson that might be 30 to 40 minutes. There’s a familiarity to the drill. The boys ask for (and are given) a football and set off to split in to teams according to their own rules. Some girls will take a basketball to the neighbouring court, while some others even in lower classes sit out on the sidelines having already ‘opted out’ of physical exercise. Sometimes there might be a bit of refereeing, maybe a bit of coaching, but a lot of the time will be pretty unproductive and some will involve learning some bad sports habits. Result – at best maybe 10 minutes of real exercise for those already most active. Many of the children on the field may be getting little more than 3-4 minutes of activity – not enough to raise heart rate discernibly or to give any real health benefits.

To me, one of the saddest elements comes because children themselves start to see the PE lesson as a way of separating out those who have some innate ability for a sport and those with none – the purpose being to determine who will grow to be part of the school soccer team, basketball team etc. When children get to Middle School (Class 5 to 7), consciously or unconsciously they begin to figure out whether or not they are going to ‘make the team’. For those who don’t expect to, the option is easy – opt out of being physically active and take to the sidelines as a spectator.

The education system has again effectively produced an unbalanced person, one who doesn’t see or experience the inherent interconnection between mind and body. Can educators really, seriously say they have fulfilled their responsibility when they turn out a young mind trained to excel in passing exams, but who has their first heart attack in their mid-30s or gets diabetes and lives a life hampered by a regime of treatment?

There is now more than enough evidence to suggest very strongly that it’s not even just the body we’re letting down when we don’t adequately develop the habits of being physically active in children. As the following Fast Company article highlights regular exercise brings benefits both mentally and emotionally;

Article (Click on link to read article)

So, in short, we need a renewed effort to an integrated approach to physical exercise in schools that respects it as something more than a precursor or sorting mechanism for sport. Only in this way do we have the chance of a future generation that benefits from this balanced approach to human development, has better mental and emotional health and lives up to more of its potential.

Principals – Academic Leadership

Here, a number of American Principals talk about how they put learning at the centre of importance in their schools, as part of an ASCD training video.

ASCD Training Clips

To my mind, there is no doubt that this is often a time management issue. It’s very easy as an Institution Head to get drawn in to so much administrative functioning, that the Head is left with little time to be instructional leader. Without this, there’s a risk that learning loses out because there’s more focus on the teachers than the learning outcomes for all the children.

Engaging all pupils in meaningful tasks, with a focus on the fact that they should all be learning is the most effective way to ensure effective learning outcomes.

Learning at the Centre of Attention

Shock! A UNICEF podcast highlighting the way that learning, as opposed to access or teaching, have to be at the centre of the debate on quality education if we are to prepare young people effectively for the Twenty First Century.

UNICEF Podcast

The panelists do allude to the reasons why the focus has not been on quality learning outcomes until now – the Millennium Development Goal Number 2 entirely focuses on getting children in to school with no mention of access to quality learning or the relevance of that learning to modern life.

Maybe we should be glad the debate is moving on, however slowly.

World Education Summit 2013, New Delhi

Shortly before my trip to England and move from India to U.A.E. I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the World Education Summit, 2013 in New Delhi. The panel was on ‘Blended learning’ giving opportunities to explore the ways in which IT can be harnessed to personalise education for each child in a modern school and classroom setting.

In the video below there’s plenty of interest throughout. My contribution starts at 59:45. It focuses inevitably on the work i had been doing for the previous 8 months with Kunskapsskolan, Gurgaon where we brought a very refreshing and innovative education model in to India for the first time.

Back to Blogging

To all the regular readers of the blog, my apologies that the flow of articles has been cut off over the last couple of months.

I took a (well earned?) holiday break to England to catch up with family and then one month ago relocated to Dubai, UAE to take up a new assignment (see ‘About’ tab above). Now that i’m getting settled and visa formalities are well progressed i can start blogging again.

I’ve still been reading, researching and finding lots of superb materials, so have lots to share over the coming weeks. I’ll also share some pieces about the new school in Sharjah and also settling in and exploring this fascinating place.