This report intends to mainly deal with school sport and “physical education” (PE). Physical education means a statutory area of the school curriculum, concerned with developing pupils’ physical competences and confidence, and their ability to use these to perform in a range of activities. PE is concerned with learning the skills, develop mentally appropriate conditional abilities and understanding required for participation in physical activities, knowledge of one’s own body, and its range of and capacity for movement and health-conscious lifelong physical activities.
In contrast, “sport” has a much broader meaning and is a highly diversified social phenomenon, encompassing various forms of physical activity from high-level competition through school, club or community organised programmes to spontaneous and informal physical activity. School is the ideal setting to promote physical activity and positive attitude towards regular physical activities. Children and adolescents from all social backgrounds are present on a regular basis for at least eleven years of their waking life.
School, in general, has also a primary function as a place of learning. Early learning experiences are crucial to continuing involvement in physical activity and a child’s experience of curricular and extracurricular opportunities in school is extremely important. However, at present, it is often said that school is not delivering on its potentials when it comes to promoting physical activity. Hence, the central question is not whether physical education in school is useful or not, the question is: what conditions are necessary for physical education to have beneficial outcomes?
This is the question this report is dealing with(1). Health issues The rising prevalence of obesity across Europe, particularly among young people, is alarming and is a major public health concern. The number of EU children affected by overweight and obesity is estimated to be rising by more than 400,000 a year, adding to the 14 million-plus of the EU population who are already overweight (including at least 3 million obese children)(2); across the entire EU27, overweight affects almost 1 in 4 children.
Spain, Portugal and Italy report overweight and obesity levels exceeding 30% among children aged 7-11. The rates of the increase in childhood overweight and obesity vary, with England and Poland showing the steepest increases. In overall terms, children are less fit compared to the generation of the 1970s and 1980s. It is not such much a higher calorie intake that causes overweight, but physical inactivity: children do not eat more – they move less. There is a strong tendency for excess weight to continue to accumulate from childhood through to middle age.
It is therefore important to achieve an optimum body weight throughout life. Apart from the human suffering it causes, the economic consequences of the increasing incidence of obesity are considerable. It is estimated that in the EU obesity accounts for up to 7% of health care costs, and this amount will further increase given the rising obesity trends. Furthermore a number of ‘adult’ conditions, such as osteoporosis and coronary heart diseases have their origin in childhood, and could be aided in part by regular physical activity in the early years
There is also fairly consistent evidence that regular activity can have a positive effect upon the psychological well-being of children and young people, in particular with regards to children’s self esteem, especially in disadvantaged groups such as those with learning difficulties or low self-esteem. Social competences, moral education, integration and crime reduction Sport with its underlying concepts of ‘fairness’ and ‘freedom’ provides a rich context for the advancement of socio-moral development. Sport and physical education can offer an effective context within which personal and ocial responsibility can be furthered. It has been pointed out that there is a relationship between the participation in sport and physical activities and social relationships and social integration. In modern societies young people are less able to fall back on enduring social ties than in the past. This renders social networks – including the school and the class – increasingly important. Exclusion from the group, social isolation, leads to extreme stress; conversely, integration is good for self-esteem.
Physical education and sport in general are viewed as an important means of counteraction disintegrating trends because sport provides the chance to belong, to experience the ‘we’ feeling, community spirit and solidarity. Through sport, one appropriates the norms, values and skills that may be very useful in another context. There is even strong evidence that sport has a part to play in preventing crime, both in rehabilitation and crime prevention. However, this depends to a large extent on how sport and physical education is taught and organised: also separation and marginalisation can be effects of sport!