Physical education for healthier, happier, longer and more productive living

The time children and adults all over the world spend engaging in physical activity is decreasing with dire consequences on their health, life expectancy, and ability to perform in the classroom, in society and at work.

In a new publication, Quality Physical Education, Guidelines for Policy Makers, UNESCO urges governments and educational planners to reverse this trend, described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pandemic that contributes to the death of 3.2 million people every year, more than twice as many as die of AIDS.

The Guidelines will be released on the occasion of a meeting of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport (CIGEPS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, (28-30 January).*

UNESCO calls on governments to reverse the decline in physical education (PE) investment that has been observed in recent years in many parts of the world, including some of the wealthiest countries. According to European sources, for example, funding and time allocation for PE in schools has been declining progressively over more than half of the continent, and conditions are not better in North America.

The new publication on PE, produced in partnership with several international and intergovernmental organizations**, advocates quality physical education and training for PE teachers. It highlights the benefits of investing in PE versus the cost of not investing (cf self-explanatory infographics).

“The stakes are high,” says UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “Public investment in physical education is far outweighed by high dividends in health savings and educational objectives. Participation in quality physical education has been shown to instil a positive attitude towards physical activity, to decrease the chances of young people engaging in risky behaviour and to impact positively on academic performance, while providing a platform for wider social inclusion.”

The Guidelines seek to address seven areas of particular concern identified last year in UNESCO’s global review of the state of physical education, namely: 1. Persistent gaps between PE policy and implementation; 2. Continuing deficiencies in curriculum time allocation; 3. Relevance and quality of the PE curriculum; 4. Quality of initial teacher training programmes; 5. Inadequacies in the quality and maintenance of facilities; 6. Continued barriers to equal provision and access for all; 7. Inadequate school-community coordination.

The recommendations to policy-makers and education stake-holders are matched by case studies about programmes, often led by community-based nongovernmental organizations. Success stories in Africa, North and Latin America, Asia and Europe illustrate what can be achieved by quality physical education: young people learn how to plan and monitor progress in reaching a goal they set themselves, with a direct impact on their self-confidence, social skills and ability to perform in the classroom.

While schools alone cannot provide the full daily hour of physical activity recommended for all young people, a well-planned policy should promote PE synergies between formal education and the community. Experiences such as Magic Bus (India) which uses physical activity to help bring school drop outs back to the classroom highlight the potential of such school-leisure coordination.

The publication promotes the concept of “physical literacy,” defined by Canada’s Passport for Life organization of physical and health educators as the ability to move “with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person. Competent movers tend to be more successful academically and socially. They understand how to be active for life and are able to transfer competence from one area to another. Physically literate individuals have the skills and confidence to move any way they want. They can show their skills and confidence in lots of different physical activities and environments; and use their skills and confidence to be active and healthy.”

For society to reap the benefit of quality physical education, the guidelines argue, planners must ensure that it is made available as readily to girls as it is to boys, to young people in school and to those who are not.

The Guidelines were produced at the request of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport (CIGEPS) and participants at the Fifth International Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education and Sport (Berlin 2013). UNESCO and project partners will proceed to work with a number of countries that will engage in a process of policy revision in this area, as part of UNESCO’s work to support national efforts to adapt their educational systems to today’s needs (see Quality physical education contributes to 21st century education).

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Media contact: Roni Amelan, UNESCO Press Service, r.amelan(at)unesco.org, +33 (0)1 45 68 16 50

Photos are available here:
http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/multimedia/photos/photo-gallery-quality-physical-education/

* More about the CIGEPS meeting

** The European Commission, the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), UNDP, UNICEF, UNOSDP and WHO.