Disrupting childhood? Breaking the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools. May 3, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Inclusive Education, Primary Education.
Tags: curriculum, health and physical education, sexuality education
By Son Truong
While the Australian Curriculum in Health and Physical Education (HPE) made significant strides towards acknowledging the importance of developing health literacy with young people, its broad stance on sexuality education, particularly in the primary school curriculum, is a missed opportunity to ensure primary school children gain consistent, fully inclusive, and factual knowledge about not only the physical, but also the mental, emotional, and social dimensions of human sexuality.
Last year, I was invited to speak on a panel at the 1st National Conference of the Australian Forum on Sexuality, Education and Health. The panel members were asked to reflect, and offer a provocation, on the topic of Communities, parents and sexual health – whose rights, which prompted me to consider the notion of mandatory sexuality education in schools. Several months later, with new headlines emerging, including Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation (Jennings, 2016), Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes (Martin, 2016), Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim (Stark, 2016) the focus of the conference and panel seem as timely as ever.
Sexuality Education Curriculum in Primary School Teacher Education
Originally from Canada, I started working at Western Sydney University in 2012 with the responsibility of teaching the HPE curriculum to pre-service primary school teachers. My arrival occurred at a particularly interesting crossroads in teacher education, especially as the national HPE Curriculum was in the process of being shaped and drafted. It was not long after I began preparing and contextualising my lecture and tutorial content that I came across the topic of sexuality education in the headlines across a variety of news sources.
Walsh (2012) explains that while the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) original draft guidelines introduced sex education in Years 3 and 4, under pressure from parent groups it later pushed back some of this content until Years 5 and 6. A central argument in Walsh’s article is that “We have confused children learning about sex in an appropriate educational context with the sexualisation of children” (para. 5).
I was curious to see how students, as future teachers, would respond to Walsh’s (2012) article, and more broadly the responsibility for teaching topics such as Growth and Development, Interpersonal Relationships, and Sexuality Education in the primary school curriculum. The resulting discussion was both encouraging, as well as a call to action in my role as a HPE teacher educator to better communicate the meaning and importance of teaching sexuality education.
Walsh (2012) states, “There is complete agreement in the literature that healthy sexual development is dependent on two-way communication between adults and children, and this needs to begin early” (para. 6). However, despite what appeared to be convincing evidence that human development and puberty may begin for children before they enter Grades 5 and 6, and therefore, an understanding of puberty needs to be addressed prior to these grades, there were still some anxieties and a sense of hesitancy amongst some students.
There was certainly a range of views shared amongst the class, and many students were in agreement that sexuality education needs to begin early. However, there were also a number of statements that I heard with some regularity, suggesting children are too innocent to learn about this or teaching about sex leads to sexual activity. As a teacher educator, these viewpoints signalled not only students’ apprehension towards teaching this content, but also particular prevailing views of childhood and sexuality education that may need to be disrupted.
Reflecting on Challenges
I think some of the challenges we are facing to ensure that quality sexuality education is provided systemically and systematically across the primary school curriculum are reflected in a protest sign I saw published in a news article entitled Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’ (Richer, 2015).
“Math, not Masturbation. Science, not Sex.”
The province of Québec, Canada recently introduced a pilot project with 19 schools to deliver mandatory sexuality education from K – 12, with the intent to introduce the curriculum across the province in 2017. The key word here is mandatory, which means that in the upgraded curriculum, parents will not have the option of withdrawing their children from class while this content is being taught.
My reading of this protest sign revealed three concerns that are equal to those I attempt to address with my students.
Firstly, the sign reduces comprehensive sexuality education to sex and masturbation. It seems that far too often, sexuality education becomes contested and controversial as a result of fear discourses and slogans that misrepresent its content and aims.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2009), “The primary goal of sexuality education is that children and young people become equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships…” (p. 10). I add further emphasis here on both the personal and social aspects of health and wellbeing, and the importance of respectful relationships education, which focuses on building healthy relationships, including supporting sexual and gender diversities.
Secondly, although perhaps just witty alliteration, the juxtaposition of math not masturbation, and science not sex, brings to mind a broader concern that HPE in general, and sexuality education in particular, are at-risk of being pushed to the margins in the primary school curriculum. The issue is further complicated with concerns of an over-crowded primary school curriculum, where time spent in physical education may be limited. For example, an audit undertaken by the Auditor-General (Audit Office of NSW) in 2012 revealed that approximately 30% of NSW government schools are not meeting minimum hours for physical education. It is difficult to know with any certainty, and without further research, the extent to which time is spent focused on other content areas in the HPE curriculum; however, it is clear that support is required at all levels, including in the curriculum as well as in teacher training programs, to strengthen the profile and provision of HPE.
Research suggests there is limited knowledge about the provision of sexuality education in Australian teacher education programs, and that “primary school teachers are rarely prepared with the knowledge, skills and understandings to confidently and competently address sexuality education” (Leahy, Horne & Harrison 2004; Harrison & Ollis 2011, as cited in Ollis, Harrison & Maharaj, 2013, p. 1).
Central to my provocation in this post is that the broad content statements and descriptions in the HPE Curriculum, particularly in relation to sexuality education, results in ambiguity regarding the specific subject matter that should be addressed. Relatedly, while referring to the Board of Studies NSW (2007) PDHPE syllabus documents, Ullman and Ferfolja (2015) argue:
Teachers are advised that the selection of specific PDHPE programme content occurs at the school level and reminded that, ‘The syllabus is designed to give all schools the flexibility to treat sensitive and controversial issues in a manner reflective of their own ethos’ (p. 153).
Sexuality education is largely viewed as specific to HPE, which is a subject area that is arguably marginalised in the primary school curriculum, as well as dominated by other prominent topics, such as sport, physical activity, nutrition, and drug education. Therefore, there needs to be clear guidelines and expectations on its implementation and related learning outcomes, particularly as states develop their HPE syllabus and curriculum documents.
And Thirdly, the protest sign suggests that sex and masturbation are inappropriate content to discuss with students. This view reflects the dominant discourses of particular constructed notions of childhood innocence rather than an approach oriented towards educational rights and needs.
Curiously, there is a hesitancy to accept and adopt a needs-led approach for sexuality education. While countries such as Holland, Sweden, and Finland already have compulsory sexuality education, the debate continues for others, such as Canada, the United States, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia (see Ricci, 2015).
The current need is reflected by observing mainstream media and news outlets, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and content readily available on the internet in general. The broader social media context often means that information and misinformation are readily available to young people. My aim in referring to this access to mis/information is not an attempt to engage with crisis discourses – to raise sentiments of fear for the loss of childhood innocence because that term is a social construct to begin with. Rather, it is a call to disrupt a particular view of childhood in order to take into consideration the contemporary landscapes and diversities of being a child.
Continuing the Dialogue
To break the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools, there is not room for ambiguity in the curriculum. While recognising that sexuality education is the responsibility of the whole community, schools have a central role to play in ensuring all students have access to this important content. As a teacher educator, I acknowledge the challenges, and specifically time constraints, in covering all HPE content within a generalist primary school teacher education course, which further underscores the need to continually enhance my teaching, as well as the need for new opportunities for professional development to ensure teachers feel confidence and competence in teaching this content. Concurrently, dialogue needs to continue at all levels to support a fully inclusive and necessarily diverse sexuality education that does not shy away from reflecting the lives of all children and families today.
Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools: Department of Education and Communities. Sydney: Audit Office of New South Wales. Retrieved from http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/246/01_PAB_Physical_Activity_Full_Report.pdf.aspx?Embed=Y
Board of Studies, New South Wales. (2007). Personal development, health and physical education, K-6 Syllabus. Retrieved from http://k6.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/go/personal-development-health-and-physical-education-pdhpe
Jennings, J. (2016). Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/respectful-relationships-curriculum-aims-to-change-a-generation-20160408-go1iwl.html
Leahy, D., Horne, R., & Harrison, L. (2004). Bass Coast Sexuality Education Project: Needs Analysis and Professional Development Evaluation Report. Retrieved from https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/student/basscoastfinalreport.pdf
Martin, S. (2016). Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/safe-schools-program-federal-government-unveils-changes/news-story/ce2d4751b2068f6b3ecedede317954fd
Ollis, D., Harrison, L., & Maharaj, C. (2013). Sexuality education matters: Preparing pre-service teachers to teach sexuality education. Retrieved from http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/252661/sexuality-education-matters-april-2013-online.pdf
Ricci, C. (2015). British MPs demand mandatory and modern sex education. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/british-mps-demand-mandatory-and-modern-sex-education-20150223-13mi4j.html
Richer, J. Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-to-introduce-sex-ed-pilot-project-with-no-exemptions-1.3209189
Stark, J. (2016). Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/axing-of-sex-education-program-yeah-part-of-ideological-agenda-experts-claim-20160422-gocjxo.html
Ullman, J., & Ferfolja, T. (2015). Bureaucratic constructions of sexual diversity: ‘sensitive’, ‘controversial’ and silencing. Teaching Education, 26(2), 145-159.
UNESCO (2009). International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183281e.pdf
Walsh, J. (2012). Worried about the sexualisation of children? Teach sex ed earlier. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/worried-about-the-sexualisation-of-children-teach-sex-ed-earlier-10311
Dr Son Truong is a Lecturer in Health and Physical Education (HPE) in the School of Education, and a member of the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. The following is based on a presentation he gave as part of a panel at the recent Australian Forum on Sexuality Education and Health (AFSEH) Conference.
Anaesthetized by screen or energized by green? August 4, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Role of the family.
Tags: ecopedagogy, health and physical education, outdoor education, parenting, relationships, technology
from Tonia Gray
At the recent School Principals’ Conference in Australia, a tweet went out:
Students need technology to thrive, “home is where the wifi is “#SPCConf15″
The tweet gave me pause; it was at odds with what parents and teachers report to me. Many are increasingly concerned about technology’s broader impact on their children, in both dramatic and subtle ways.
Before I give the wrong impression, I am no Luddite. Like so many academics, I am heavily reliant on Wi-Fi and connectivity for my day-to-day work and even my social life; however, my concern arises from a convergence of factors. To illustrate, I’d like to share three recent stories that suggest technology is not an unmitigated benefit, no matter what a tweet might tell us.
First, I was recently speaking to a mother of a teenager (aka ‘screen-ager’) who recounted that her children’s friends had a very different understanding of how to treat Wi-Fi as home. She told me:
As soon as my son’s friends walk through the front door of our ‘home’, the first thing they say is:
“What’s your Wi-Fi Password?”
She was struck by the way that hunger for technology had overridden the desire for direct human interaction; friends gathered to share access to the Internet rather than to actually interact.
As educators, do we really want to force more internet-based interaction on our students? Do we think that they are not getting enough electronically-mediated connection? Or are we more concerned that they are engaged in two-way dialogue, with face-to-face interaction and human connection?
The same parent was dismayed at the way teenagers addressed one another when they met. She felt that gone are the days where we said:
“Hello. Thanks for having me over. How have you been?”
On the contrary, she worried that Wi-Fi has subsumed their world. Or in simple terms – it is their world.
As a health and outdoor educator, my concern with screen addiction is that interpersonal relationships are being affected in insidious ways. Wi-Fi and screens compete directly with channels of authentic communication, with first-hand and visceral experience.
In our 21st Century ‘Brave New World,’ I constantly notice parallels between Wi-Fi and ‘Soma.’ For those not familiar with Aldoux Huxley’s (1932) novel, A Brave New World, Soma was the fictional drug administered to keep the masses placated, unquestioning and inert – a source of pleasure that dulled people’s senses and capacity to reflect on their own lives. In short, society was tranquilised by Soma. Are our screens the electronic equivalent, anesthetising us and removing us from more intense connection with the world around us?
Which leads me to my second cause for concern: the iPad stroller holder. The ironies of the iPad stroller holder are many: the product forces the screen into the face of a toddler, maybe even before he or she knows how to really use it. It replaces the chance to look about while riding in the stroller with the necessity of staring at the screen.
Are parents are using technology ‘in loco parentis,’ or as an electronic baby sitter to replace the parent?
What compelling evidence is there that children can’t sit in a confined space without having a screen hovering before their eyes? Why don’t parents choose to interact with their children and their surroundings whilst pushing the stroller?
The Baby Beehavin’ stroller holder advertisement exemplifies this concern:
|Being a mom is not easy. Raising kids and taking care of yourself can be a lot of work.
If you plan to take your child with you for a walk in the park, you may as well take your iPad with you.
The Baby Beehavin’ Stroller iPad Holder is what you need to attach your tablet to a stroller.
Image from Baby Beehavin
Raising a child has never been easy. Although this is true today, our ancestors managed to raise us (and our parents and grandparents) without the labour-saving devices that we now depend upon: no washing machines or dryers, or even disposal nappies. And they managed with much larger families in many cases.
Some are using technology as a pseudo-parenting device, a form of pacifier that keeps the kids sedate in restaurants or tranquil on long trips traveling in cars or planes. Speech development is adversely influenced as a result of low levels of verbal interaction between parent and child. How often do parents hand their children a personal device to play games as a positive reward for silence or complacency? Another stark reminder of analogues between technology and Huxley’s fictional Soma: passivity is rewarded with a pleasure that encourages still more passivity.
Screens replace unstructured, spontaneous play and engagement with the natural world. We run the risk of making play, unhindered by fear, propelled by curiosity and a sense of wonder and discovery, seem too dangerous, too vigorous, or simply too loud.
I have long argued that young people need to actively and repeatedly engage with the natural world in order to mature. Evidence is mounting to suggest a direct relationship between nature and well-being (Children and Nature Network, 2015). Developmentally, children’s senses, their executive function, emotions, and physical, social, and intellectual capacities have been shown to be enriched by nature (for the academics in the crowd, check Bell, Wilson & Liu, 2008; Cohen-Cline, Turkheimer & Duncan, 2015; Gray & Martin, 2012; Kellert, 2012; Wells, Myers & Henderson, 2014, for a few examples). But more importantly, relationships are the key to academic success, especially child-parent or child-teacher relationships (Hara & Burke, 1998). Sadly, child-screen dependence can overshadow our need for quality relationships.
Children have never been so alienated from the natural world due to an increased reliance on technology and hyper-vigilant parental safety concerns. But they are also in danger of being separated from each other and from us, the adults in their lives (see ABC Big Ideas).
This leads to my third concern: screens are fundamentally solitary and sedentary, alone and inert. This combination of solitude and stillness is a recipe for a cocktail of lifestyle health problems. We run the risk of long-term consequences – heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity. Even before the situation gets so dire, we in physical education notice that some school-aged children are simply not capable of doing some of the most basic bodily skills that we once took for granted: running, jumping, skipping, climbing, balancing, throwing a ball.
In terms of solitude, our experiences of electricity blackouts have changed drastically, especially when loss of electricity means the Wi-Fi disappears. For the first few minutes or even hours, we experience withdrawal symptoms. Some families have to rediscover how to communicate – face-to-face without our screens, can we remember how to interact? Maybe we need a ‘digital detox‘?
In this sense, the tweet is correct: home (and school) is where technology dependency starts. Both could instead provide connected “play-able spaces” that offer absorbing and open-ended challenge activities for children rather than screens to reward them for passivity.
Most importantly, home and school should foster social connectedness where children are drawn together into common experiences. Schools and homes should be designed for richness of environment using engaging sensory materials which incorporate a sense of delight and containment. And natural green spaces are essential for both home and school, to energise and delight us.
Has Wi-Fi become the new ‘Soma’ for our ‘Brave New World’? In response to the tweet about home being where the Wi-Fi is, I would suggest:
“Students need quality interpersonal relationships at home and in nature for them to thrive. It starts with their parents and with schools.”
ABC Big Ideas http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2014/05/16/4005866.htm accessed 14 June, 2015.
Bell, J., Wilson, J. & Liu, G. (2008). Neighborhood greenness and 2-year changes in body mass index of children and youth. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35(6), 547-553.
Children and Nature Network (2015). Nature and Children’s Health: Effects of the natural environment on children’s health & well-being https://www.childrenandnature.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/CNN_2015-Nature-Childrens-Health-HANDOUT_-Wells.pdf
Cohen-Cline, H., Turkheimer E. & Duncan G. (2015). Access to Green Space, Physical Activity and Mental Health: A Twin Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 69:523-529. doi:10.1136/jech-2014-204667
Feldman, J. (2015). Health benefits of urban vegetation and green space: Research roundup http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/cities/health-benefits-urban-green-space-research-roundup Accessed June 15
Gray, T. & Martin, P. (2012). The role and place of outdoor education in the Australian National Curriculum, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education. 16(1), 39-50.
Hara, S. & Burke, D. (1998). Parent involvement: The key to improved student achievement. School Community Journal, 8(2), 9-19.
Kellert, S. (2012). Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World. New Haven: Yale Press.
Wells, N, Myers, B. & Henderson, C. (2014). School gardens and physical activity: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools. Preventive Medicine, 69, S27-S33. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.10.012
Tags: children with special needs, food allergy, health and physical education
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Soon, a number of children with food allergy will be starting school in Australia. When children are transitioning to school with food allergy, parents will be concerned about their child’s safe and inclusive participation in all school activities, increased risks of food allergy via accidental exposure from others, how quickly a child’s allergy can be identified and addressed and importantly, whether a young child has the capacity to stay safe at school (Sanagavarapu, 2012).
Before children start school, parents assume a primary responsibility for their young child’s safety. However, at the time of starting school, it’s imperative that children also assume some responsibility for their safety at school where there will be diminished adult or parental supervision.
But the question is, can a 4 and a half year old (the starting age for schools in New South Wales) understand his or her food allergy and what an allergic reaction is, and alert his or her teacher to the allergic reaction promptly and seek timely help? Can young children resist the temptation to accept unsafe foods when offered by their peers at school? Can they advocate for their own safety, age appropriately? Or is it too much to ask a young child to take responsibility for his or her safety and the management of food allergy at school?
Adolescents are cognitively and emotionally competent to grasp the implications of food allergy (e.g., Fenton et al., 2011) and can manage to stay safe independently. However, it is not known if young children understand their food allergy and its implications and can stay safe at school with limited adult supervision.
Our pilot study on ‘Starting school with food allergy’ (Sanagavarapu, Said, Katelaris & Wainstein, 2014), funded by Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, has provided valuable insights into children’s knowledge and understanding of food allergy and safety at school. In this study interviews were conducted with six children affected by food allergy, aged between four and a half to six years old, in Sydney, Australia.
These interviews with children have pointed to the need to scaffold young children’s knowledge of their own food allergy, and of their safety and its self-management, at the time of starting school.
To stay safe, children must be able to recognise foods that they are allergic to and avoid them by all means, essentially by resisting temptations to accept or share such foods with others.
All children in our study named the foods that they can and can’t eat, and most children also recognised those affected foods from photos shown in the interview. Further, all children knew the various symptoms of food allergy, saying things like:
“ I keep coughing and coughing”; “my mouth gets funny”; “sometimes I scratch my mouth when it’s itchy and it takes a while to get unitchy”; “I start to vomit and get spots”.
One child even mentioned the prospect of a fatality from an allergic reaction (commenting, “You will die”), while another child labelled the condition medically (saying, “I also have anaphylaxis”).
Additionally, most children had a range of strategies to prevent the potential risks of food allergy. These included refusing to accept foods from others, checking with teacher or mum, and peer education through to a simple and effective strategy of hand washing. To quote:
“I try my best to not eat”.
“I say stop”.
“Even if they told me it is yummy, I say “I can’t eat them”.
“At big school you don’t share food”.
“I only eat my own food”.
But, not all children seemed to be able to resist temptations to accept foods, and some children trusted their peers’ assurances and risk assessments, which can be potentially risky. To quote:
“if my friend says, it does not have eggs or nuts, I will have it”.
“I would ask if it had nuts and if it did not I would eat it”.
In terms of seeking help, all children knew who to go for help when needed. They said it would be their class teacher in the first instance, and or friends at school. Drawing from their own knowledge and experiences of food allergy, children in our study offered advice to other children which included:
• Tell others you have food allergy;
• Don’t eat foods you are allergic to, and
• Don’t share food with others.
This advice from children implies a preventative approach to safety that corresponds with the preventative approaches that parents generally take in the management of food allergy, because currently there is no known cure for allergy. The most effective way to manage food allergy is to prevent the risks in the first instance, and administer antihistamine and adrenaline autoinjector if needed.
The advice provided by children in this study to other children starting school is simple, yet invaluable in reducing the risks of food allergy at school. Although based on a small sample, our study findings offer valuable implications and suggestions to parents, teachers and children in promoting the safety of children with food allergy at school. They are below.
For parents or caregivers
• Talk to your child age appropriately about his or her food allergy and its symptoms, without alarming them about the consequences of food allergy.
• Help your child to recognise and label foods that he or she is allergic to in various forms and via grocery shopping, books, and through pictures in advertising materials and catalogues.
• Age appropriately, also assist your child to recognise and read food labels.
• Encourage your child to share information on his or her food allergy with teachers and peers at school, and with before and or after school staff.
• Raise the awareness of your child’s classmates on food allergy with the help of the school/class teacher.
• Develop simple scripts with your child that she or he can use to communicate when unwell and to seek help from an adult or peer at school when needed.
• Reinforce the simple message of ‘no sharing or accepting foods’ from others and that they eat their own lunch/tea.
• Scaffold self-control strategies with the child to resist temptations, albeit at varying levels, and age appropriately via reading stories, mock sessions and role plays before children start school and in the transitional periods.
For educators or schools
• Incorporate the simple message of ‘no sharing or accepting of food’ into classroom discussions and promote and implement policy of ‘no sharing of food’.
• Raise the awareness of all children about food allergy through the reading of stories about children starting school with food allergy or other strategies.
• Scaffold self-control strategies to resist temptations, albeit at varying levels, and age appropriately via reading stories, mock sessions and role plays at school.
• Collaborate and communicate with parents or caregivers on matters of the food allergy management to promote child safety.
• Know your food allergy.
• Do not share foods with others.
• Say ‘no’ to food politely when offered from others, even friends.
• Let an adult or peer know when feeling unwell.
Fenton, N.E., J. S. Elliott, L. Cicutto, A. E. Clarke, L. Harada, and E. McPhee. (2011). Illustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child, Risk Analysis, DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01488.x
Sanagavarpu, P., Said, M., Katelaris, C., Wainstein, B. (2014). Starting school with food allergy: Listening to parents’ and children’s voices. Research Report Commissioned by and prepared for Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia. University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Sanagavarapu, P. (2012). Don’t forget to pack my EpiPen® please? What issues does food allergy present for children’s starting school? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37 (2), 56-61.
Dr. Prathyusha Sanagavarapu is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her research interests include the areas of starting school, food allergy and children’s health, and issues around family diversity and parenting.
A minimum of 2 hours of fun and effective physical activity is a must each week in schools August 26, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: curriculum, health and physical education, teacher education
I listen to stories all the time about terrible experiences people have had with physical education (PE) at school. The stories mainly feature: dreaded laps of the oval or standing in lines waiting to have a turn with sporting equipment, as well as the pressure of performing skills while everyone is watching, and feeling totally uncoordinated and humiliated.
Negative experiences in PE during school can result in a total dislike and avoidance of physical activity that is often carried through life. Physical inactivity contributes to the deaths of over 13,000 Australians annually and results in more than $1.5 billion in direct health care costs each year (NSW PA Audit, 2012). Parents and carers need to take some responsibility but as educators we also must play our part in contributing to a happier, healthier Australia.
Schools play a key role in providing positive opportunities for children to participate in physical activity. A report into the physical activity of NSW government primary students found just 30% of schools are mandating the two hours of planned physical activity each week (NSW PA Audit, 2012).
The ideal scenario to ensure all children participate in the required physical activity is to provide quality education in PE through the use of a specialised PE teacher, something I discussed a couple of years ago in a previous blog post.
Until the current NSW state government recognises the importance of a specialist PE teacher, we need to examine what schools can do to warrant generalist primary teachers building their confidence in teaching PE enjoyably and effectively. This action will play a major part in developing students’ lifelong love, and participation in, physical activity.
Let’s explore four ideas for how that might occur:
- ensure all teacher education programs in universities are providing quality professional preparation of primary pre-service teachers in health and physical education (HPE) curriculum.
This means supporting pre-service teachers who lack confidence and fear teaching PE. Often pre-service teachers model their own teaching on the style and method they experienced as students or while they were members of sporting clubs. (Morgan & Hansen, 2007). Those previous teaching styles and methods might not reflect best practices that build all students’ enjoyment and confidence in physical activity.
- place a higher status on PE in schools through promoting the potential benefits of physical activity on overall health and wellbeing.
Physical activity improves psychological wellbeing and is known to reduce depression; it minimises the likelihood of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Recent studies (Telford, Cunningham, Telford, & Abharatna, 2012) show physically fitter children perform cognitive tasks more rapidly, and that relatively short and specific aerobic exercise training interventions improve the executive functions of mental processing and strategically-based decision making.
- provide more professional learning to support and increase the confidence of generalist primary teachers to teach PE.
In-school support to generalist primary teachers must guarantee PE is programmed in the curriculum, and that PE lesson plans are provided, as well as regular workshops, mentoring and quality resources. Such steps positively influence teachers’ beliefs about PE.
- use Game Sense as a pedagogical model.
As Australian schools move towards a national curriculum there is pressing urgency for high quality pedagogy that highlights the possibilities for learning through movement in PE. Such pedagogy involves redressing the division of the mind from, and elevation above, the body. Such views contribute strongly toward PE being relegated to a ‘low status subject’ in the school curriculum (Light, 2002). The isolation of PE from the academic curriculum is exacerbated by remarkably resilient, ‘traditional’ pedagogy for teaching the practical aspects of the HPE curriculum that just focus on sporting skills. To read more about the Game Sense approach to PE refer to a past blog post. As teachers of this critical part of the school curriculum we must ensure that the value of participating in physical activity is recognised and that school students’ experiences of PE are positive and enjoyable so that they come back for more, and stay healthy and active, throughout life.
Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools.
Curry, C., & Light, R. (2007). Addressing the NSW Quality Teaching Framework in physical education: Is Game Sense the answer? Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Conference on Teaching Sport and Physical Education for Understanding.
Light, R. (2002). Social nature of games: Australian preservice primary teachers first experience of TGfU. European Physical Education Review, 8(3), 291-310.
Morgan, P., & Hansen, V. (2007). Recommendations to improve primary school physical education: classroom teachers’ perspectives. The Journal of Educational Research, 101(2): 99 – 108.
Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Telford, R. M., & Abharatna, W. P. (2012). Schools with fitter children achieve better literacy and numeracy results: evidence of a school cultural effect. Paediatric Exercise Science, 24(1), 45.