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The fact that obesity is becoming more and more common is something I’ll hardly have to explain. In the US, about a third of the population is obese, and equally worrying numbers can be found all over the world. It’s not just a Western thing either, as some might think, because while the US is still the worst, China and India are badly affected by it as well, and the biggest rise in obesity can be found in the Middle East. But what is causing this? And how do we avoid it? Quite obviously, there are two possible answers: too little exercise, or bad nutrition.While there’s plenty to be said about the nutrition thing (oh the added sugars…), let’s focus on the exercise part. In particular, exercise in school, or “Physical Education”.
Physical Education is the favourite moment of the week for some, but the bane of existence for others. Not surprisingly then, there is a constant debate going on about whether or not PE should even be taught in the first place. On the one hand, it makes sure that every student gets at least some exercise, but on the other hand, is it really useful? Those two hours per week, will they change a child’s health? Absolutely not. But that’s not really the point of PE.
The point of PE is to motivate children to do sports. To enjoy it. Those two hours in their childhood won’t change anything to their health, but it might just make them consider taking up a sport if they haven’t done so already. For that reason, especially these days, they’re introduced to many different sports in the hopes that they might find one they enjoy, one they will stick to for years after that, becoming fit and healthy through something they discovered in PE.
The reality, though, is quite different. See… there is almost always a divide in PE classes. On the one hand, you’ve got those who already play a sport, who already are fit and who generally enjoy PE classes. On the other hand, there’s the group of people who don’t play sports, who are often less fit and who usually find those PE lessons about as bad as it gets. That last group is the group for whom PE exists in the first place, but they are also the ones who detest it the most.
There are plenty of reasons for it. For one, PE is a perfect place for bullying. It makes people vulnerable, having to do things they don’t like and having a PE teacher almost force them to do it anyway. Changing in the changing rooms, without supervision, isn’t ideal either, and for someone who has never been able to enjoy sports, being on constant display only leads them to feel miserable. PE doesn’t become a source of fitness for them: it becomes something to look up to, something that ruins the entire week, and that only drives them further away from ever doing a sport. Experiences in PE make them associate sports with something terrible, something they hate, and that means that even if they do find a sport they could have enjoyed, they will never pick it up. Their mind will conjure up those terrible experiences, and a life without sports becomes almost inevitable.
So if PE fails so miserably at achieving its goal, so miserably in fact that it often achieves the exact opposite, does that mean we should get rid of it? Perhaps… The alternative, though, isn’t perfect either. Without PE, many children would never be given the chance to explore the joys of sports at all, because it woud depend purely on whether or not their parents find sports important or not. That means that in particular girls might miss out on those opportunities, as we still live in a culture in which many people think that sports are meant primarily for boys. In the end, sports is just something you have to try, and when the environment isn’t hostile, usually, you’ll end up enjoying it. That’s what PE is for.
One thing is certain, however: the way it is now doesn’t work. PE mostly pushes people away from sports and even manages to create the occasional childhood trauma. Change is needed, then, in such a way that PE becomes something enjoyable, something in a non-hostile environment. It has to be safe, and the child has to be willing to do those sports instead of being forced into them.
But that isn’t easy to achieve, as you might have concluded yourself already. Problems like these don’t have easy solutions, or we would already have found them. However, it has to be attempted, and some kind of reform has to be aimed for, because PE in its current form might only be doing more damage than it does good. And in that case, we might even be better off getting rid of it altogether, than keeping it the way it is right now.
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