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Impact gender on child development in physical education

Introduction

Gender issues have always been central to physical education (Penney 2002). These issues highly influence the perception and development of male and female children during their school years. Schools, as institutions, are not impervious to external factors leading to gender inequalities (Lentillon et al., 2006). Physical Education (PE) is still a male dominated subject and teachers are known to support boys more (Lentillon et al., 2006).

UN resolution 58/5, which was adopted in 2003, had called “on governments to use sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace” (Sever 2005). International charter of physical education and sport, adopted by the General Conference in 1978 clearly states, “that by the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other consideration”. But, unfortunately this is not always taken into consideration. Gender issues, along with issues related to race and religion, in physical education are a part of the general academic system in most schools around the world (Penney 2002).

Physical education, both as a profession and as a school subject, has evolved in the UK in conspicuous gendered ways (Penney 2002). This has inadvertently or inevitable affected the development of the children in different phases of their lives. There is a dire necessity to form new agendas in Physical education on order to sustain the level of quality in education and facilitate proper development of children in an indiscriminate environment. The need of the hour is agendas “that engage with social and cultural diversity, are capable of providing for the needs of individual girls and boys, and that celebrate individuality” (Penney 2002; pp 4).

Education and Child Development

Parents have the most important role to play in a child’s development, but at the same time the right education is necessary to ascertain short-term and long-term impacts on the development of children in the right direction. While adult-child interaction is the fundamental premise the affects the child development, the same is affected by the amount of exposure to these settings (Philips and Lowenstein, 2002). The socio-emotional development of these children is the most affected and varies from one child to another.

Quality education is a not only a necessity for all the children but also their right. It is inevitable for proper child development. Quality education and child care pay significant dividends and returns to the children (Calman and Whelan, 2005).According to UNICEF (2000),

“Quality education includes:

Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities;

Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and provide adequate resources and facilities;

Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life, and knowledge in such areas as gender, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention and peace;

Processes through which trained teachers use child-centred teaching approaches in well-managed classrooms and schools and skilful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce disparities;

Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.”

Quality education for child development focuses on two very significant aspects of school life: Proper psychological development and proper physical development (UNICEF 2000). Proper educational setting is necessary for proper cognitive effects and psychological development. It is necessary to maintain a healthy environment for learning and teaching devoid of any discrimination on any basis.

The role of play or physical education has been emphasised over and over again (UNICEF 2000; Ginsburg 2006; Krotee and Womukhoya, 1986). Physical education helps in cognitive and physical development of children coupled with the development of their social and emotional well-being, while providing an ideal platform for better interaction between children and adults (Ginsburg 2006).

Physical Education as a model for development

Krotee and Wamukhoya (1986)

A brief narrative description of the journal article, document, or resource.argue that early exposure of a child to activities that involve movement promotes a positive self concept. It gives training to body and mind, whilst providing enjoyment to the children as they mature (Krotee and Wamukhoya, 1986). The UN called to the governments in 2003 to use sport as a means to promote education health, development and peace. 2005 was celebrated as the International Year and Sport and Physical Education. Physical education as a development tool can be used towards human development, health and social well being. Moreover, it can be used to promote economic development, social inclusion, political development, enhancing employment and respect for the rules of the democracy (Sever 2005).

From small institutional events to international sporting events, sports and physical education can be used to pursue a number of development goals, such as, public health and well-being, enhancing leisure in education, social development, human development, stability and tolerance, economic development, peace, community building, etc. (Sever 2005).

Physical activities are a necessity for the proper cognitive and physical development of children. But, it has been seen that despite the evident benefits, children are being deprived of the time from physical activities and education (Ginsburg 2006). Change in life style and the hurried way of living coupled with the ever increasing academic pressure on the children has taken away the time for physical activities and physical education (Ginsburg 2006).

The children in the later years of their childhood face a range of developmental issues (Borgen and Amundson, 2000). This phase of life is extremely important because the children have to make the necessary transition to adulthood and the ways in which young people make some of their transition experiences greatly influence their psychological well being (Borgen and Amundson, 2000). Therefore, it is important to make sure that children get all the necessary forms of education to help them develop properly. It is also important that the children have the necessary environment to get that education without any discrimination.

Physical education has been surrounded by gender issues in the secondary years of education and the schools have been unable to resist this social discrimination (Lentillon et al., 2006; Penney 2002). Physical education has by far been regarded as a male dominion and girls have been seen to suffer on account of equal participation and safe environment for learning (TKI 2010).

The Impact of Gender on Child Development in the Secondary Years

Gender is central where issues in physical education are concerned (Penney 2002, TKI 2010). This reflects the interest of more and more researchers (Colwell 1999; Flintoff 1997) studying the context of gender in Physical education. Researchers in physical education and the teachers have been slow to respond to the debate that has highlighted sexism and gender bias in physical education. They have also been unable to “confront inequitable gender relation in schools and the subject” (Penney 2002). Even with the physical educationists proclaiming best intentions to adapt to new curriculum change, no major structural change has been achieved (Penney 2002). Penney (2002) has stated,

“The paucity of ‘gender related’ innovation evident in physical education over the last twenty years may have had as much, if not more, to do with the absence of a positive encouragement and steer on gender matters from central governments in the UK as any shortfall in the attitudes and interests of physical educationalists in schools and training institutions.”

This can be understood as the reason that today the level of physical education is that should have been decades back in terms of equality. The schools continue to follow the deep rooted stereotypical ideological values coupled with organisational concerns to propagate single sex grouping and sex differentiated curricula (Penney 2002). These experiences can easily reinforce the stereotypical images about how the children should feel about their bodies, the difference in physical abilities and the legitimacy in indulging in different physical activities, and other attitudinal and behavioural ideologies.

The physical educationalists have been known to claim that the subject invites all the children irrespective of their background and an atmosphere that does not make them feel uncomfortable or marginalised (Penney 2002). Schools have been incapable of it and confronting the external social forces like gender bias as these institutions are not strong enough to resist these forces. Schools function on the basis of merit and allocation of rewards (Lentillon et al., 2006). The rewards can broadly be considered as grade distribution and teacher support, where the teachers the aptitude of the students and grant them grades and provide support and praise (Lentillon et al., 2006). The students are offered personal support and encouragement by the teachers for them to develop rightly. Social support at the schools is very important for the pupils to excel in academics and prevent behavioural issues related to school (Dubow et al., 1991; Grannis, 1992; Cutrona et al., 1994; Samdal & Wold, 1998; cited in Lentillon et al., 2006).

Gender inequalities can be seen in all walks of life, and in physical education these issues are prominent. The stereotypes related to gender may have a strong effect in affecting the assessment of the pupils’ work by the teachers, especially in regard to female students (Lentillon et al., 2006). The problems can be attributed to the historical understanding of sport and physical activities. Sport is usually and often associated with masculinity and there are a number of communities that seem to perceive it inappropriate for the women to take part is such activities (Sever 2005). Often, women who take part in sports activities are considered to be masculine. Similarly, men who shy away from physical activities may be labelled as feminine or unmanly. Some of the societies consider physical education to be productive as it provides the necessary physical exercise to the workforce. At the same time the increasing number of women in the workforce does not change the attitudes of people towards women indulging in sports or physical education (Sever 2005). The participation in sports and physical activities is perceived differently by different people. For some, it can be the want to take part in spots and learn about it, while for others it may just be a matter of being identified in a certain group (Sever 2005).

Over the years, it has been seen that women face numerous practical barriers to participation in physical activities. This can be attributed to the lack of skills, lack of resources, lack of technical support along with the general lack of safe and appropriate sport facilities (Sever 2005). Sever (2005) also enthuses that girls also face other problems like lack of time and lack of childcare facilities that may inhibit them from participating freely in physical activities and sports. Apart from these issues, women also tend to become afflicted to harassment in the form of physical and verbal abuse. Thus, the safety of the women becomes an issue depriving easy participation and making it variably dependent on location of the physical event and the time of the day (Sever 2005).

There aren’t enough female role models in the sports fraternity who can invoke the passion for participation in physical activities for the women. The is a general lack of women leaders and coaches, thus females are under represented in decision-making bodies of most educational institutions (Sever 2005). The inequality deeply affects the development of the girl child in the secondary years of schooling. “Gender equality is a fundamental goal of development and belongs to the basic and universally recognized civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights” (Sever 2005).

Women have been seldom seen participating in sports activities across the world in comparison to men (Sever 2005). Physical education benefits the mental and physical development of children and reduces the risk of chronic diseases later in life, thus it is important to encourage sports for girls. The under representation of women in decision-making bodies in the educational institutions is also an issue of discrimination that needs to be changed so that the participation of women can diversify the talent pool of officials working in the institutions. Thus, all the sports related activities and development projects would become more out reaching and target all the people indiscriminately (Sever 2005).

Over the last few decades, it has been seen that social inequalities exist both in terms of access to physical education and success in physical education, and it was seen that boys and girls have experienced differentiated curriculum (Penney 2002). Sometimes, the curriculum is even guised as ‘different but equal’ to pass it off as equity in education. Boys enjoy more opportunities to engage in physical recreation. It can easily be seen that the games encouraged for girls like netball and dance are not only less popular, but are also less prestigious than the games for the guys like soccer and rugby (Penney 2002).

The discrimination is carried out of the field as well. It is seen that in certain cases only the girls were called out by their first names and teasing remarks were directed towards the female pupils signifying the gender bias (Penney 2002). These experiences have contributed heavily to the present conceptions regarding masculinity and femininity regarding physical education in the pupils.

Gender discrimination in physical education is a socially constructed issue and there are different implications for access to facilities, participation and opportunities (Hutchinson 1995).

The gender discrimination in physical education can lead to many personal repercussions making the victims vulnerable to emotional bankruptcy (Ro and Choi, 2010; Gay 1992). The deprivation of equal access to physical education also means that women are not being able to avail necessary education related to health and can tell upon the health of women. This slight discrimination can lead to widespread neglect creating divisions between children and leading to many social problems like gender inequality outside the institution as well. The experiences of gender inequality have also been associated with negative coping strategies like drug use and social exclusion (Ro and Choi, 2010). The deviation from the active life results in a hampering effect on the development of the child who can face problems in making the successful transition to adulthood (Borgen and Amundson, 2000).

Penney (2002) has said that social inclusion and same classes for girls and boys can help curb this discrimination on the basis of gender by providing equal opportunities for girls. TKI (2010) has cited Brown (1992) to confirm this statement by claiming that girls can overcome the stereotypes of male and female participation patterns if allowed to study in a co-ed environment. TKI (2010) supported co-ed classes to enthuse that co-ed classes provide a socialising atmosphere that benefits both boys and girls and provides the more proficient girls the opportunities to reach their potential.

At the same time, TKI (2010) has also remarked that physical contact and sexuality become more obvious issues, which may be more difficult to tackle. There is an active chance that the girls may be harassed, verbally or physically, by the boys. Forced integration in the team games is another area of concern that faced co-ed classes, where the girls may be forced to participate in games showing the inadequacies of the less able girls (TKI 2010).

Flintoff (1990) cited in TKI (2010) has remarked that when the teachers claim to provide equal opportunities to the students, the curriculum is not inclusive enough to cater to the wide array of needs of the participants. Moreover, TKI (2010) has claimed that gender integration in co-ed classes is not always successful in overcoming gender issues as equal access to activities cannot necessarily ensure equal participation. The concerns of the girls in these classes are often undermined and discounted, especially when the educators lack the ability to teach in mixed gender groups (Vertinsky 1992; cited in TKI 2010).

Achieving gender equality may face a number of issues. One of the primary issues that need to be addressed is how to prove to the teachers that they treat the girls and boys differently (Davis 2003). Literature from the past confirms that socialisation affects the ways teachers interact with the pupils. The teachers are known to be willing to change their behaviour towards children when they become aware of the gender biases, therefore, it is important to raise the awareness of the teachers towards their gender biases (Davis 2003). The awareness can be raised by gender equity training programs that can be held before or during the service (Davis 2005).

Gender bias undermines the whole field of teaching physical education (Davis 2005). The lack of awareness is related to the perpetuation of gender bias in physical educators; therefore, it is necessary to review the behaviours of the teachers that affect the presence of gender bias in physical education (Davis 2005).

Gender equity and gender bias have both been a manifested part of the educational environment concerning physical education (Davis 2005). Some of the researchers have pointed out to treating the students equally or providing every student with equal access to programs while ignoring individual differences. Others would favour individual treatment of the students because of their individual and different backgrounds (Davis 2005). These people believe that this is important to attain equal outcomes.

Davis (2005) has cited Vertinsky (1992) to emphasize that a gender-sensitive perspective can recognize gender issues to be about socially constructed power relationships apart from the equal access to opportunities. “Gender bias is the result of not achieving equal opportunities for both sexes, particularly females” (Davis 2005). It is the inequitable treatment towards either of the sexes. The students develop their notions regarding gender from their continuous and continual interactions with others in the school.

“The differences between these students, including their prior experiences, values, ethnic background, socioeconomic background, and their interactions with teachers and peers, will result in differences in their attitudes toward gender equity and gender bias” (Davis 2005).

To challenge gender discrimination, a few critical elements are necessary to be outlined, including:

“improving women’s capabilities, through education and health; increasing their access to and control over opportunities and resources, such as employment and economic assets; enhancing their agency and leadership roles; protecting and promoting their human rights; and ensuring their security, including freedom from violence” (UN 2007).

The role of the male students and teachers is also very important in challenging unequal power relation on the basis of gender (UN 2007). Recently, a strong focus has been laid on the importance of men and boys in promoting empowerment of women in different areas including physical education. As the world of sport is still dominated my men, their involvement in striving for gender equality is critical (UN 2007).

The road to development – The teachers’ role

The perceptions of the teachers towards genders biases differ to a considerable extent. Most of the teachers don’t realize that they are treating boys and girls differently and are willing to change once it is brought to their notice (Davis 2003). Institutions and the physical education have relatively contributed to the gender bias. The pupils are awarded different rewards objectively, and the boys have been seen to get better grades than the girls and the teachers have been noticed to support boys more (Lentillon et al., 2006).

The sensitivity of the students to gender inequalities differ according to their own gender and self-concept regarding gender. The pupils also display gender stereotypes and their gender-biased perceptions on reinforce the stereotype in situations where inequality of power is prominent (Lentillon et al., 2006). The teachers should be aware of this unconscious integration of gender stereotypes by the pupils and should challenge the self-conception of these pupils.

With the curriculum encouraging a life-long commitment to exercise, the teachers should impart the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and understanding to achieve the same by making sure that the young people become knowledgeable health consumers. Numerous teachers have been known to be insufficient in reflecting about what they teach in PE and the way they teach it. Teachers have been known to have poor choice of physical activities and inappropriate or insufficient attempt of develop the social attitudes of the children in the proper way (Tinning 1987).

The teachers rely on providing instructions to the students who need to follow them. The students are held responsible for their attendance in the class, their dress and their achievements, and there is minimal or no emphasis on achievement and appreciation. Also, the teachers expecting more from a single student or a number of student’s results in low-expectancy students getting less number of opportunities (TKI 2010). This type of behaviour may not be cordial for the safe development of children during the important years of their life. There needs to be a consistent and considerable change in the attitudes of the teachers towards the students and an effort in changing the perceptions of the pupils towards gender inequalities.

Recommendations

There is no single change that can be made to eliminate the gender inequalities in Physical education. But, a number of changes can be effective in bringing a massive change in favour of gender equity. To eliminate the inequities based on gender, the teachers should use social inclusion and should effectively manage the instructions in a way that is acceptable to the students.

It is also very important to increase the awareness of the teachers regarding their behaviour towards the boys and girls. This can be done through gender equity training programs before or during the service.

Gender discrimination in physical education is a social construction and should be dealt with like a social issue rather than an institutional matter. Physical education has to convey more than just culturally valued activities. The curriculum has to challenge the inequalities in physical activities and education due to the male dominance in the field. The activities offered to girls are often restrictive, sometimes difficult and always less prestigious than the activities prescribed for the male students.

A thorough change of the administrative setup can bring about this change where women need to be taken into administrative places so that they can contribute in the decision making. The teachers have to be consistent and dependable to bring about this change. The teachers have to learn to respect the individuality of the students whilst maintaining a sense of team participation and learning.

It is important to understand that access to facilities is not enough to eradicate gender discrimination in Physical education as it does not ensure equal participation, therefore, it is very important to value participation equally as quality of performance, if not more. There is a need to more recreational physical activities to reduce the competitiveness to increase participation, which would give girls a better opportunity to participate and be active. Grineski (1992) cited in TKI (2010) had offered four guidelines for improving teaching and learning in physical education:

“Provide orderly sequences of motor skill learning.

Allow for individual differences.

Set appropriate goal structures.

Provide ample learning time.”

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