Schools in, Physical Education Out

Books with dumbbell and a measurement tape on white

Isn’t it strange how the leaving cert requires such a high level of points for students wishing to teach P.E (physical education)? It attracts young smart, fit and enthusiastic individuals. These college students have great ideas and interest in helping children get fit and feel good.

Growing up with sport and exercise, my personal experience of primary and particularly secondary school leaves a lot to be desired. The teacher would arrive, go to the back room and return with various balls. Soccer, hokey, basketball and handballs were all flung into the centre of the room.

“Multi-sport” is what she/he would shout. With little to no warm up and no apparent imagination gone into the class, we would rally to opposite ends of the hall and a random sport would be picked. Whilst I loved participating in the sports, something occurred to me recently looking back, why weren’t we structuring our P.E the same as we do with maths or english etc?

There is a set curriculum with quarterly markers in the classroom environment. Why should it be any different with our physical education?

Is being fit, healthy and active not a priority?

The board of education has dropped the ball so to speak on providing a fully well rounded physical education to the primary and secondary students of today. (Full pun intended)!

Angry and tired schoolgirl studying with a pile of books on her desk

Let’s look at this from another angle. Does exercise help with concentration and the productivity of children?

Evidence shows that about a quarter of Irish children are overweight or obese. Four out of five are not getting enough exercise.

Fergal Lyons, a PE teacher and president of the Physical Education Association of Ireland, says Irish schools are not providing enough PE. “Children used to be able to get their exercise from running around, playing games and climbing trees. That’s no longer the reality, but the Irish education system is so academically driven that it’s been too slow to respond to these changes.

In secondary school, less than 5 per cent of the school year is given over to PE, with about 45 hours allocated to PE, compared with 76 in the UK and 90 in Portugal.” Reference (http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/pe-in-schools-are-we-all-doing-enough-1.1907614)

In some eastern european countries, the physical education curriculum is structured exactly like their academic counterparts. They have a grading system from 1-10. 10 is full marks. They have subcatagorised your physical ability into pushing movements, pulling, rotating and jumping. All get graded out of 10. Once you achieve a minimum standard, you pass, just like any other exam.

Imagine how great it would be if every child finishing school had a basic understanding of healthy eating, nutrition and building good habits? Why stop there? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every sixth year student knew how to complete a safe and proper squat or lunge when finishing school. My physical therapy clinic would be a lot quieter if these foundations were in place.

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So what can we do for our children?

1). Place greater emphasis on P.E as a subject and possibly incorporate the subject into the Leaving Cert, offering points to students who excel at physical education.

2). Re-structure the education of P.E teachers to move away from “multi-sport” lessons and towards general fitness and health orientated classes.

3). Change how we look at P.E. As not just as a means to an end, but as a massive contributor to health and productivity levels of the children.

We all need to tackle obesity and raise awareness. Healthy and happy children are a by-product of that.

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