From after World War II to the end of the 1960s, at Hong Kong, physical education was taught in all primary schools from class 1 to 6, but was not compulsory (Physical Education Section, 1964). There was no strict qualification requirement for physical education teachers in primary schools (Fung, 1986). This meant that all teachers were allowed to teach physical education if their school required. Actually, in the early 1960's, after the immigration flow from mainland China, the number of trained physical education graduates could not meet the tremendous demand, due to the sudden expansion of primary education (Sweeting, 1992).
The government, therefore, adopted a temporary solution and began to offer an in-service part-time supplementary physical education program to those who had not been trained. This practice lasted until 1990, when an Education Act (Hong Kong Government, 1990) forbade the Education Department (ED, now re-titled EDB [Education Bureau]) to grant special dispensations, and stopped untrained staff from teaching physical education.
The non-statutory Curriculum Development Committee (CDC, now renamed CDI [Curriculum Development Institute]) was formed in 1970 and initially began advising the ED Director. Under this committee were specialist committees that helped to develop detailed syllabuses and curriculum guides for each school subject. In pursuit of a common course of general education for junior secondary forms (Hong Kong Education Department, 1974), the CDC published two syllabuses. The Secondary Education in Hong Kong over the Next Decade, a New Preliminary Guide of Curriculum for Junior Secondary Forms appeared in 1974 (CDC, 1974). The Provisional Syllabus for Physical Education (form 6) followed a year later (CDC, 1975).
The publication of these two syllabuses represented a significant improvement in the quality of education provided for junior secondary forms. Physical education was one of the subjects officially placed in the common-core curriculum. This provisional syllabus served as a foundation for the subsequent editions in 1980, 1985, 1988 and 1995 (CDC, 1974; CDC, 1975; CDC, 1980; CDC, 1985; CDC, 1988; CDC, 1995).
There are two critical periods for physical education's legitimization. The first one was in 1990, when a policy required all physical education teachers to be trained before they were allowed to teach the subject. This was a big step forward for its status. Safety issues had won the day - the government realized the liability problems if physical education teachers were not properly trained. The second critical moment was when physical education became one of the eight Key Learning Areas (KLAs) in 2000. A KLA provides a context for the development and application of both generic and subject-specific skills, and of positive values and attitudes through appropriate learning and teaching activities and strategies (CDC, 2000). Interestingly, Art and Music were combined into a single KLA, whereas physical education became one in its own right. It thus gained additional government resources to implement educational reform.
Time allocation to PE lessons
The White Paper (1974) on Secondary Education states that in junior secondary forms all students should follow the same general curriculum. Practical and technical subjects should enjoy between 25% and 30% of time allocation. Among the five practical subjects, physical education acquired 5% of curriculum time. That is equivalent to about two periods in a notional school week. Each period lasts for 40 minutes. The recommendation on curriculum time has become a blueprint for primary schools, but not for kindergartens. They allocate three periods of 20 to 30 minutes per week for physical play. Some assign one 15-minute period per day. The fact is the government has little influence on private kindergartens.
In the late 1980's, the introduction of school-based curricula gave schools more flexibility to decide the duration of each period. Conditions vary considerably between schools. Primary schools currently allocate physical education class two periods per week, a total of 60 to 70 minutes. For secondary school, at least two periods of 40 minutes each per week are suggested. It is better to have the two periods separately, unless time has to be spent traveling to outside venues like swimming pools or other public playgrounds.
The curriculum content of physical education at Hong Kong schools
The different levels of content in physical education
The teaching contents of physical education are very traditional, and highly related to sports. At kindergarten level, the term "physical education" is rather confused. Academics prefer to call it "movement" or "early childhood activities"; government officials use the term "physical play". Kindergartens promote the physical development of children through physical play and other forms of activity such as music and movement, dramatized play, and light exercise. There is no hard and fast rule as to how physical play should be implemented. In some kindergartens, this period is shared with music or art activities.
In lower primary classes, physical education takes place in the form of games, handling sports equipment, rhythmic activities, and nurturing skills common to games and sports such as running, skipping, jumping, throwing, kicking and catching. Most teachers term it "fundamental movement". In upper primary classes, physical education comes in the form of sports activities or games such as basketball, football, volleyball, handball, tennis, table tennis, badminton, dance, swimming and gymnastics.
In secondary school, physical education is a compulsory subject. Students are taught basic skills in athletics and various sports such as swimming, outdoor adventure, gymnastics, dance, basketball, football, volleyball, handball, badminton, tennis and table tennis. In the 1990's, there were minor changes, with more after Hong Kong returned to Mainland China. Activities like martial art, tai chi chuen, dragon dance, lion dance and Chinese dance were introduced into the syllabus. In reality, there is little room to include extra sports activities into the syllabus.
Coeducation in physical education
In kindergarten and primary school levels, there is no gender segregation in physical education classes. A physical education teacher teaches a class of between 25 and 40 boys and girls. There are motor ability differences between these two groups of children, in particular from primary 4, age 10, onwards. The reasons are typical girls begin their adolescent height spurt at about 10.5 years, and reach peak height velocity at approximately 12 in the UK, whereas boys begin their spurt and reach a peak two years later (Tanner, 1978). Hong Kong teaching content does not make any special allowances for these two groups of children.
On the other hand, secondary school is different. Here, male physical education teachers teach boys, while their female colleagues take the girls. This tradition has been in force since the 1960's. The argument is that it might not be appropriate for a male physical education teacher to have body contact with girls while teaching. In addition, the two sexes' interests differ: boys prefer to kick footballs, whereas girls show great interest in dance.
Overall climate of physical education
A hundred years or even more ago, physical education was not compulsory, but was taught in all primary and secondary schools from Primary 1 to Form 5. By the early 1980's, physical education had become a compulsory subject. In secondary school, physical education is recognized as an integral part of the curriculum. At present, the physical education "climate" is becoming more positive, but still lags behind that enjoyed by some other subjects.
Parents' perspective over the past 20 to 30 years was to encourage their children to put extra time and effort into academic work. The main focus was on studying for examinations. Parents understood that this was not healthy for their children. However, their concern was that if their children failed in the examination, they would not have a bright future. Parents thus perceived physical education as a "second class" subject.
Before the 1990's, in private schools, a reduction in physical education lessons to one per week was very noticeable. This phenomenon also appeared in the government-aided primary and secondary school students attending public examination. The reason was simple. Education in Hong Kong was highly competitive and examination-oriented. Only about 18% of advanced level students were allowed to attend university education. Schools therefore pushed for a good academic reputation in order to attract more students.
From the 1990's onwards, revision of the examination system gradually changed the situation. Schools moved from examination-orientation to multi-talented development. This shift seems somehow change parents' perception.
From a school perspective, the general impression is that physical education is less important that other subjects. Many principals either in primary or secondary schools show inadequate support for developing physical education. There are a few concerns, for example that physical education cannot enhance schools' academic image. Head teachers fear trouble or a negative image when a case of sports injury is reported, and worry that the subject needs a large amount of funding. On the other hand, physical education in some schools enjoys a higher status because a few school principals actually play a key role in supporting the subject's development at their schools.
Moreover, the health issue itself also draws considerable public and political attention. Whenever there is any unfavorable research findings related to child health, people immediately point to physical education lessons as one of the best ways to promote it. However, the voice of politicians is not strong enough to push the government to provide additional resources to promote school physical education.
The importance of physical education and PE teachers
The status of physical education
Physical education moved from non-compulsory to compulsory status after the early 1980's. Establishment of the Hong Kong Sports Institute in the 1970's, launch of a physical education degree in the mid-1980's, introduction of physical education public examination, and implementation of the "trained physical education teachers" policy have all helped raise the status of physical education.
Overall, physical education nonetheless remains low. One example is a continued drop in interest in the subject between junior and senior students. The main reason might lies in the examination system and the low status of physical education in the school curriculum (Hardman & Marshall, 2000). Physical education is not an examination subject in most secondary schools. So the subject and its activities are usually undervalued. People usually perceived them as recreational activities rather than part of the educational process. When students study in senior forms, they start to think of which subjects are most important for achieving academic success. They are typically under pressure from their parents to select the academic subjects for their career also.
The status of physical education teachers
Before the mid-1980's, the status of physical education teachers was extremely low. With the launch of a physical education degree, teachers' status rose because they had similar qualifications to their colleagues in other subjects. They take on a similar teaching load, plus other duties. Owing to their job requirements after school hours, they are assigned less administrative work, and do not need to be class tutors. They also have similar opportunities for promotion. However, many senior positions are given to other subject teachers. Only a few physical education teachers might have better chances to be promoted because of their unfailing support to school and students.
In academic terms, physical education teachers are perceived by other colleagues as "second class" in school because physical education is not an important curriculum subject, and the marks are not included in overall student assessment. Physical education cannot contribute greatly to building up a school's academic image.
Grading system in physical education
Another indication of physical education's low status is the grade system. In the past, Physical education marks did not count towards overall student appraisal. This gave parents and students the message that physical education is a "second class" subject. Since the 1990's, perceptions have slightly changed because of the inclusion of physical education in primary and secondary school public examination, and the availability of a Bachelor degree physical education program. But many schools still exclude physical education grades from overall student assessment because the government only takes account of Chinese, English and Mathematics to assess examination performance.
Physical education teachers have to submit grades at the end of each semester. They are normally based on four areas. These are the sports activities taught that semester, plus physical education knowledge, physical fitness and attitude. Each area carries a certain weighting. In the early 1990's, launch of the first public examination for senior secondary school students paved the way for students to pursue physical education in tertiary education. Within a few years, about 500 candidates from 20 secondary schools took part in this public examination. The contents include two skill proficiency tests, and one each in written knowledge and physical fitness.
The general teaching model in Hong Kong schools
In Hong Kong, it does not specially favor any one didactical model. Traditional, pragmatic and alternative models exist concurrently. Physical education teachers teach skills to facilitate learning a particular sport. For example, students learn passing, dribbling and shooting skills in order to play basketball. Physical education teachers also provide a wide range of activities to develop students' particular sporting interests. Eventually, it is hoped that students can identify one or two in which to participate after leaving school. A focus on fitness currently has little impact, because physical education teachers believe that students' fitness will eventually improve through learning skills and participating in activities.
With strong influence from the United States and Great Britain, physical education teaching in Hong Kong leans heavily towards the technique-based approach. The physical education lesson is highly structured, with emphasis on the teaching of techniques. This is apparent in syllabuses for both primary and secondary schools. For example, in the syllabus "A Scheme of Physical Education for Hong Kong Primary School, 1964", a games lesson is structured to contain the following procedures/steps: 1) Opening activity; 2) General activity; 3) Games; and 4) Order activity (Physical Education Section, 1964). All items taught at each step focus on techniques, which are the central aim of the lesson. The games serve as a vehicle.
This teaching approach has changed little in 40 years. Teaching of techniques is in a commanding position. The reason is that many physical education professionals and key people in the Physical Education Section of the ED are from Britain. It is likely that they had a strong influence on physical education policy, and on planning and developing syllabuses. Many local physical education lecturers and teachers trained either in Britain or the States.
The new curriculum reform in Hong Kong and its influence in physical education
The new curriculum reform and physical education
In the curriculum reform, the government reiterated that physical education with "education through the physical", to achieve the ultimate goal of whole-person development (CDC, 2002). It provides equality education through a variety of physical activities. Students learn to be responsible and contributing members of society, the nation and the world.
Physical education plays a key role in developing students' physical competence, cognitive performance, creativity, collaboration and social skills, and enhancing physical fitness. It also improves their confidence and competitiveness in sport, and strengthens their ability to use these attributes in performing various physical activities in association with the development of an active and healthy lifestyle (CDC, 2002).
The new curriculum also emphasizes generic skills such as collaboration and creativity. This indirectly encourages physical education teachers to adopt new teaching approaches to achieve these objectives. How best to implement the new curriculum remain s a hot issue. Developing new sports activities and the four generic skills (collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking) are critical.
Main goals of the new curriculum reform
The official CDC document "Physical Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 to Secondary 3)" (2002) states that the curriculum's main goals are to help students to: 1) develop motor skills and acquire necessary knowledge through physical activities, and cultivate positive values and attitudes for the development of an active and healthy lifestyle;
2) acquire good health, physical fitness and body coordination through an active lifestyle; and 3) promote desirable moral behavior, cooperation in communal life, ability to make decisions, and appreciation of aesthetic movements.
This list includes two noticeable changes from the 1988, 1980 and 1975 versions. These are "cooperation in communal life" and "ability to make decisions". These mirror overall changes of the education reform. Students should now become active, responsible and contributing members of society, as well as displaying critical and exploratory thought, innovation and adaptation to change. Some of these learning outcome examples were showed in the Education Commission's progress reports (Education Commission, 2002; Education Commission, 2003; Education Commission, 2004; Education Commission, 2006).
Implementation of the new curriculum
To facilitate implementation, the CDC (2002) has prepared a booklet, "Physical Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 to Secondary 3)" (above mentioned), and organized various seminars and workshops (Education Commission, 2006). The next stage is likely to be monitoring. Regular school inspection is highly recommended by some scholars to ensure teachers implement the new curriculum properly. For teacher providers, an appropriate change of course curriculum to highlight these strands and generic skills is absolutely essential. Student teachers are requested to teach new activities, and to adopt innovative approaches to highlighting generic skills in their teaching practice.
However, there are some challenges ahead. In the past, three different task groups developed physical education syllabuses at kindergarten, primary and secondary levels. They were criticized for excessive overlapping. One of the classical examples is gymnastics: the forward roll is taught in primary four and secondary one. In basketball, primary school physical education teaches basic dribbling techniques in class five. Students then learn similar techniques again in lower secondary education.
Evaluation of the new curriculum
Since the new physical education curriculum was implemented in 2002, many tools are now available to evaluate the effects on learning. According to the reform document, assessments should be designed to evaluate how well the expected learning targets have been achieved. This can reflect students' strengths and weaknesses, and provide information for further improvement (CDC, 2002). Assessment tools should thus be valid, reliable and practical.
The CDC (2002) proposed that students, peers and parents could also be assessors, as well as the physical education teachers. The latter can assess the development of skills, physical fitness, knowledge, values and attitudes. Oral questioning, feedback during interaction and observation checklists are common tools to collect evidence. Students are encouraged to get involved in physical education project work. Through this involvement, students can assess their skills in the process of data collection, analysis, presentation, etc. Peers and parents can also be invited to assess student skills, knowledge and attitudes in their project work and portfolio.
With the assessment results, the performance of students can be reported in the form of grades given against the marking scheme and weightings. Physical education teachers can actually provide written feedback to help students to understand their strengths and weaknesses, promote learning and revise their learning goals.
The major changes in physical education under the new curriculum reform
The focus argument of physical education
The focus of physical education is now to provide students with enjoyment in the lessons, and to develop a healthy lifestyle through learning different sports activities in a safety-conscious environment. The fundamental arguments for legitimizing physical education in school are based on the assumption that it improves students' bodily and psychological health. They will then go on to participate actively in different sports after leaving school (CDC, 2002).
Physical education and health
To nurture a physically healthy child is one of the ultimate goals of Hong Kong physical education. In Chinese culture, there are five "rings of virtue", of which physical health is one. Owing to its crucial role, physical education cannot be ignored or phased out. All physical education curricula in Hong Kong since the 1960's have put great emphasis on health.
Armstrong (2001) indicates that in school, physical activity should not be divorced from other aspects of a healthy lifestyle. It seems in reality, however, that sports-oriented culture plays the major role ahead of health. The focus of a physical education lesson is on learning how to play that sport. Physical education teachers claim that through learning how to play, children will eventually gain better health. Since 1990, the health concept has becomes a hot issue, because western countries have already shifted in that direction. Researchers have examined health closely, and the government has allocated funding to study children's health.
Character development, sportsmanship and fair play ideals have long been lauded by educators and parents as desired outcomes of competitive sports programs (Bredemeier & Shields, 1995). From an educational and developmental perspective, physical education has the potential to promote positive character traits by helping students focus on these principles (Butler, 2000). They are among the most important objectives of physical education curricula. However, teachers often neglect them.
In practical teaching, physical education teachers report that they implement these principles through a "hidden curriculum". Students will be taught in a real situation. The fundamental problem is that many teachers do not highlight these principles during the lesson. The physical education curriculum reform emphasizes these principles among the "values and attitudes" components. It is hoped that this will cultivate positive student behavior.
As extra-curricular activities
From core-activity to multi-activity model, physical education is drastically extended to students' extra-curricular activities. Schools nowadays arrange quite a number of extra-curricular activities. As well as physical education teachers, part-time coaches are invited if funding is available. The activities cover both recreation and competition. Popular recreational activities include swimming lessons, table tennis, badminton, tennis, golf, different kinds of dance, gymnastics, and outdoor pursuits like hiking, canoeing and sailing. Competition training includes athletics, various ball games, swimming and dance.
In order to develop multi-talented students, and to launch more extra-curricular activities with limited funding, schools may also arrange some popular activities on a fee basis. Parents are very supportive, because the charges are reasonable and the activities seem good for health. Primary and secondary schools offer estimated 35-50 different kinds of extra-curricular activities.
Conclude and outlook for future
The future physical education
We are facing enormous changes and challenges in education in Hong Kong. Apart from the curriculum reform, there is another drastic reform of 3-3-4 new education scheme starting from this year, 2009-2010 (EDB, 2010). It will be interesting to track the future of physical education over the next ten years.
The education reform makes physical education one of the eight Key Learning Areas (KLAs). This implies importance. However, it is disappointing that the time allocated to physical education remains unchanged. On the content side, it seems that there are too many activities to teach, in particular given the encouragement to introduce innovative activities. This may be an important issue for physical education teachers to consider carefully in the future. A possible way to resolve this issue is by adopting the idea of a "core physical education curriculum". Alongside core activities, students are allowed to choose their own special interests.
The changing climate of physical education
Sports culture in schools will eventually shift from sports-orientation to health-focus. It will emphasize the four generic skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity highlighted in the physical education curricular reform. More resources will be allocated to schools and institutions to promote the awareness of health. Many projects on health will be initiated by the government or physical education professionals.
Promoting of students' generic skills will probably affect the approaches adopted by physical education teachers and in teacher training programs. Physical education teachers will shift from the didactic approach in order to highlight the generic skills in a physical education lesson. To cope with this change, physical education teacher training will also put more emphasis on promoting innovative teaching approaches.
Extra-curricular activities will become less traditional and increase in variety. The traditional extracurricular activities include basketball, football, volleyball, badminton, table tennis, swimming, social and folk dance, and competitive gymnastics. In the future, more Chinese culture activities such as martial arts, tai chi chuen, dragon dance, lion dance, and aerobic dance fitness will become very popular. Students' health concept will be enhanced. Participation in sports activities will increase, despite the distractions of computer games.
Physical education in Hong Kong has gone through considerable changes in the past 50 years. However, the pace was slow compared with other subjects, and status lower. The 1990's saw a gradually shift from sport-oriented to health-focused sports culture. This shift was particularly highlighted when physical education became one of the KLAs in the millennium year education reform. This reform also promoted the generic skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.
For the future perspective, it is anticipated that the status of physical education will gradually rise, but the subject will remain less important that Chinese, English, Mathematics and others so called "core subjects". Whatever, there should be encouraging outcomes in the climate of education reform. For example, more Chinese cultural sports activities will be introduced and promoted in the physical education curriculum. Innovative teaching approaches will also be adopted. Finally, the health awareness of students will be enhanced not merely in school but society context.