“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.