Physical education today is still frowned upon in the teaching world, with most school curriculums and teachers seeing it as irrelevant. Unfortunately, most teachers would not be able identify the difference between physical education and physical activity. As a future P.E teacher in training, both physical activity and education are immense passions of mine. However, it is important for teachers to acknowledge the difference between the two. While they may be different, they are both essential notions that students must be aware of if they are to live healthy and educated lives.
While both physical education and activity revolve around fitness and health, education is what teaches us about the importance of being active, whereas activity is when we utilise this knowledge and execute it. Thus, physical education is 'an all encompassing term including fitness, skills, movement, dance, recreation, health, games and sport plus the appropriate values and knowledge of each.' (Konjarski 2011). Physical education aims to provide students with the knowledge they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, it helps children recognise the necessity and fundamentals to not living a sedentary lifestyle. It also assists children in understanding their body and how it functions. Moreover, it helps them recognise the risks involved in dire behaviours such as drug-use and smoking. Overall, physical education teaches children the values of physical fitness and how it is necessary for optimal health and wellbeing. In contrast, 'physical activity is defined as all movements in everyday life, including work, recreation, exercise and sporting activities. It can be structured or unstructured, planned or incidental.' (Breuer 2002). Physical activity has several benefits to children. For instance: promoting proper growth and development, teaching them various physical activities that can be practised in later life and learning the importance of physical activity over electronic media and devices which can lead them into a sedentary lifestyle. In essence, children need physical education to understand the importance of physical activity. Furthermore, they need physical activity in order to maintain healthy lifestyles. In highlighting the difference between physical activity and physical education, we see that both are crucial to children for many reasons and the exclusion of both could impact the lives of children drastically. However there are some schools that do not understand this concept; and the importance it has on our future generation.
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Numerous school systems have downsized or eliminated PE under the accusation that more classroom instructional time will improve academic performance and increase standardized testing scores. However, according to Dwyer, Coonan, Leitch, Hetzel and Baghurst (1983), experimental studies in Australia have shown that physical activity does not need to be sacrificed for academic excellence. In fact, according to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2009) 'school sport and physical education improve students' concentration, memory, behaviour and academic performance.' Further to this, several of the main benefits children receive from participating in physical activity reinforce the fact that is it essential in schools. Some benefits include: 'improved general health and assistance in weight management, providing a development of a wide range of motor skills and enhancing strength, fitness, flexibility and coordination of the children'. (Government of Western Australia 2005). Therefore, despite the opinion of many, physical education is beneficial on many levels and it is an essential part of the school curriculum. Physical education is not only essential for countering health problems inside our schools but it is also imperative for positive academic progression and most significantly, for lifelong optimal health and wellbeing.
While many schools disagree with the importance of physical education, the Government has stressed its importance through a mandate which dictates the amount of time which should be allocated to physical education. In Victoria, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2009) have suggested that all primary schools should allow 20-30 minutes of physical education per day for their grade preps-3. Furthermore, grades 4-6 should have three hours per week dedicated to physical education and sport (50 per cent of this time must be concentrating on physical education).The aim of this mandate is to increase the rate of young people taking part in physical activity. In doing so, this will raise their levels of physical capability, which will restore the declining rates of health and fitness in our children. Furthermore, if these children learn physical activity habits at school, they will be more likely to be physically active when they get home. Additionally, school sport will help inspire students and encourage learners in their academic work. This notion is reinforced by the fact that physical education and sport are having 'positive influences on student academic achievement' (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development 2009). It has been shown that physical activity improves student alertness and concentration and thus, perhaps physical education should be an activity that schools complete at the start of the school day. By doing so, children will be alert from the very start of the day. They are then given recess and lunch periods to be further active and alert for the rest of their school day. This mandate is crucial to the future of Australians and Bauman et al highlights that 'nearly half of Australians do not meet the recommended level of at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week'. Thus, with physical inactivity being the second biggest impact to the burden of disease after tobacco in Australia; the idea of eliminating it from our schools seems illogical and in addition may be a secondary cause to overweight and obesity levels for Australians.
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Physical activity has lifelong benefits that not only improve physical health but also social and mental health. Socially, physical activity helps with the development of many important interaction skills. By introducing team sport in schools, children learn the importance of working together as a team and as a result, they are able to build friendships, grow in confidence and develop a wide range of communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal).Furthermore, physical activity assists in increasing self-discipline which can prevent anti social behaviour in young children. The benefits of physical activity associated with mental health are also witnessed in schools. Physical activity is a great way to boost a child's confidence (particularly those who are kinaesthetic learners and are not as competent at mathematics or other classroom based subjects.) With significant changes to children's self esteem and confidence within and outside the classroom, there is a decrease in the feelings of fatigue and stress in children. Evidently, physical activity is often used as a stress reliever and it can thus be used to give students a break from the repetitive routine of classroom work. With the numerous benefits of physical activity and education in schools, it is shocking to see that many educators believe P.E is not superior enough to be part of a school curriculum. Physical education is essential and children need it in order to achieve their best both academically and physically. We must ensure that all schools are following the mandate and ultimately, emphasising the importance of participating in physical activity on a daily basis.
Overall, if we can effectively help children understand the notion of physical education and physical activity, we can then reinforce why they are so important to partake in. This will strengthen the concept of how physical education can enhance and support learning, not only in areas of health and sport but in academic fields as well. In turn, this will alter and benefit the lifelong health and wellbeing of our children.