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.

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10 Responses

  1. Thanks for raising another topic that couldn’t be more relevant especially today when anything remotely physical seems to be a real task to most people. The words that remain with me are ‘the inherent interconnection between mind and body’..that says it all! Parents and educators need to realize that there is much more to life than academic results, that any physical activity (exercise/sports) is not just about body or about increasing one’s activity levels temporarily. It could accompany moments that build character over a period of time, that shape one’s philosophy towards life, that give one a chance to connect with oneself and with others in a way that can’t be described easily in words.Another post from you that runs parallel to my thought process…thanks 😊

    Date: Sun, 30 Jun 2013 10:58:00 +0000
    To: niyatipawar@hotmail.com

  2. hi sir this is mr. Nicart a filipino physical education instructor that will work in gd goenka school.
    i agree with all of the opinions cited on this blog. it is indeed the active lifestyle during early stage of a student should be given importance and developed in any form of exercises, fitness, sports, games and recreation in order to be a well developed human being. engaging to a variety of physical activities will not only improve the physique of one self but also the intellectual -by performing good in academics, social -through having rapport, camaderie amongst each other, moral -by inculcating pertinent sports related values such as discipline, sportmanship, determination and respect in them, emotional- by exposing them into difficult sport related situations which elicit thier ability react, solve and think for a thought under pressure… i therefore say that the role of physical education in school plays an equal important as the major subjects in honing a child growth and development. there must be a parallel working relationship between physical education and academic subjects and we can only do that by putting a concrete and standardized programme or curriculum that will cater the needs of the students as far as the physical education is concern.

    • Hi Nicart,
      Great to hear from you – and welcome to the blog. I know that on these issues of the significance and importance of the physical education programme you and i are on the same wavelength. So, I’m really looking for ward to having you on the team.

      • thank you sir! my 100% support to the school and to you!
        Sir, I would like to ask when I will be reporting to Goenka school to work on the development of sport facilities and making of any sports related plan?
        my apology if i ask this concern on your blog page i know everybody in the school is busy. may i ask for your email address so if i have any concern i go email you directly. mine is
        nicarrobsuna@gmail.com

        thank you and looking forward to work with you!

      • My reply sent by mail.

  3. Difficult as it is with school workload and after school tuition, my son (class 9) shall continue with his football academy. Simply because he enjoys the game (he is no Messi) and playing the sport is part of who/what he is. Thanks for your post.

    • Good for you, and him. I suspect the football will do more for him than the tuitions!

      Also completely right to identify that we don’t have to match up or even aspire to match professional sports persons to be physically active.

  4. I hope educators will read this article and take stock of things…..

  5. Here’s some more evidence – this time from the Lumosity website blog. It’s interesting as it goes in to some of the chemical and biological evidence of why exercise may be good for thew brain. I believe, as the article suggests strongly that we shouldn’t rule out the validity just because this research was done on rats and not humans:

    http://www.lumosity.com/blog/glycogen/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=RMKTG_Glycogen_2013.06.21&utm_content=&ll_src=RMKTG_Glycogen_2013.06.21&ll_ch=EMAIL&ll_u=26544456&spMailingID=17627142&spUserID=Mzg2OTk4OTU4MTYS1&spJobID=217268532&spReportId=MjE3MjY4NTMyS0

  6. Mr.Mark,

    We as physical educators think the same way and at times feel very bad as too why is physical education during the admissions is given the prime importance and once the sessions starts or the child is enrolled it vanishes in few seconds.
    Why are PE lessons sacrificed for Annual/founders day preparations
    Why is PE stopped thinking that the child will do well in academics
    I personally feel the educators need to really undergo workshops on importance of PE so as they understand what is sports science all about and clearly understand the difference between teaching/training and coaching.

    I will be Dubai in the coming session and it would be an honour to meet you

    Regards

    Mahesh

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