Attitudes to physical education need to change: researcher

Boys with a soccer ball

Gold Coast state primary school children are suffering from a lack of physical education, with schools failing to prioritise or promote its importance on the curriculum, new research shows.

This is the finding from a recent study led by Dr Wayne Usher from Griffith University’s Population Social Health Research Program, and who is set to make a presentation at this week’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference at the Mercure Hotel, December 3-4.

“Unfortunately physical education in state primary schools in this region is lacking in both quantity and quality, and the ramifications for our children’s health and welfare are potentially huge,” says Dr Usher, who also runs Griffith’s Health and Physical Education program for undergraduate level teachers.

“Currently the federal government guidelines recommend between 60 and 80 minutes per day of physical activity for primary children and this is certainly not being sufficiently adhered to on the Gold Coast.”

Concluded late last year, the study randomly chose ten schools across the region, which employed a specialist PE teacher conducting lessons on an oval or undercover area.

Levels of physical activity (PA), lesson instruction and teacher promotion were measured. Direct observation of 30 grade 1-5 students was used to assess physical education classes with data on student activity, lesson context and teacher interaction collected.

Further questionnaires were collected from students, PE specialists and principals.

“Significantly, our data showed that students were undertaking higher levels of low PA (sitting, standing and walking) when compared to moderate/vigorous activity,” says Dr Usher.

“Equally concerning, is data that identifies a high level of class management and imparting knowledge when compared to levels of actual fitness activity, skill and game practice.

“Of particular interest, was data that identified that ‘game playing’ was recorded as a high lesson context for delivering PE, with fitness activity being significantly lower.

“These findings were surprising considering the past and current research which clearly links poorly constructed PE, PA and low levels of fitness as contributing factors to the onset of chronic diseases and youth obesity.”

Dr Usher says that the importance of teachers implementing high quality PA programs cannot be underestimated, however he accepts that there are many pressures currently on schools, with the problem being mirrored nationally across Australia.

“There are, of course, increasing issues in schools such as ‘overcrowding’ on the curriculum, changing school priorities, funding constraints and increasing reliance on technology, however there remains an urgent need to shift current practices and mindsets associated with the delivery of PE.

“These issues could be ameliorated through multi-sectoral actions across a number of external health, community, educational and government departments,” he says.

Dr Usher says that the study findings are hoped to provide the basis for a larger-scale national study to understand the problem across the country more widely.

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