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‘Physical education makes you fit and healthy’. Physical education's contribution to young people's physical activity levels

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S. Fairclough, G. Stratton, ‘Physical education makes you fit and healthy’. Physical education's contribution to young people's physical activity levels, Health Education Research , Volume 20, Issue 1, February 2005, Pages 14–23, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyg101

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The purpose of this study was to assess physical activity levels during high school physical education lessons. The data were considered in relation to recommended levels of physical activity to ascertain whether or not physical education can be effective in helping young people meet health-related goals. Sixty-two boys and 60 girls (aged 11–14 years) wore heart rate telemeters during physical education lessons. Percentages of lesson time spent in moderate-and-vigorous (MVPA) and vigorous intensity physical activity (VPA) were recorded for each student. Students engaged in MVPA and VPA for 34.3 ± 21.8 and 8.3 ± 11.1% of lesson time, respectively. This equated to 17.5 ± 12.9 (MVPA) and 3.9 ± 5.3 (VPA) min. Boys participated in MVPA for 39.4 ± 19.1% of lesson time compared to the girls (29.1 ± 23.4%; P < 0.01). High-ability students were more active than the average- and low-ability students. Students participated in most MVPA during team games (43.2 ± 19.5%; P < 0.01), while the least MVPA was observed during movement activities (22.2 ± 20.0%). Physical education may make a more significant contribution to young people's regular physical activity participation if lessons are planned and delivered with MVPA goals in mind.

Regular physical activity participation throughout childhood provides immediate health benefits, by positively effecting body composition and musculo-skeletal development ( Malina and Bouchard, 1991 ), and reducing the presence of coronary heart disease risk factors ( Gutin et al. , 1994 ). In recognition of these health benefits, physical activity guidelines for children and youth have been developed by the Health Education Authority [now Health Development Agency (HDA)] ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ). The primary recommendation advocates the accumulation of 1 hour's physical activity per day of at least moderate intensity (i.e. the equivalent of brisk walking), through lifestyle, recreational and structured activity forms. A secondary recommendation is that children take part in activities that help develop and maintain musculo-skeletal health, on at least two occasions per week ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ). This target may be addressed through weight-bearing activities that focus on developing muscular strength, endurance and flexibility, and bone health.

School physical education (PE) provides a context for regular and structured physical activity participation. To this end a common justification for PE's place in the school curriculum is that it contributes to children's health and fitness ( Physical Education Association of the United Kingdom, 2004 ; Zeigler, 1994 ). The extent to which this rationale is accurate is arguable ( Koslow, 1988 ; Michaud and Andres, 1990 ) and has seldom been tested. However, there would appear to be some truth in the supposition because PE is commonly highlighted as a significant contributor to help young people achieve their daily volume of physical activity ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ; Corbin and Pangrazi, 1998 ). The important role that PE has in promoting health-enhancing physical activity is exemplified in the US ‘Health of the Nation’ targets. These include three PE-associated objectives, two of which relate to increasing the number of schools providing and students participating in daily PE classes. The third objective is to improve the number of students who are engaged in beneficial physical activity for at least 50% of lesson time ( US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000 ). However, research evidence suggests that this criterion is somewhat ambitious and, as a consequence, is rarely achieved during regular PE lessons ( Stratton, 1997 ; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000 ; Levin et al. , 2001 ; Fairclough, 2003a ).

The potential difficulties of achieving such a target are associated with the diverse aims of PE. These aims are commonly accepted by physical educators throughout the world ( International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education, 1999 ), although their interpretation, emphasis and evaluation may differ between countries. According to Simons-Morton ( Simons-Morton, 1994 ), PE's overarching goals should be (1) for students to take part in appropriate amounts of physical activity during lessons, and (2) become educated with the knowledge and skills to be physically active outside school and throughout life. The emphasis of learning during PE might legitimately focus on motor, cognitive, social, spiritual, cultural or moral development ( Sallis and McKenzie, 1991 ; Department for Education and Employment/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 1999 ). These aspects may help cultivate students' behavioural and personal skills to enable them to become lifelong physical activity participants [(thus meeting PE goal number 2 ( Simons-Morton, 1994 )]. However, to achieve this, these aspects should be delivered within a curriculum which provides a diverse range of physical activity experiences so students can make informed decisions about which ones they enjoy and feel competent at. However, evidence suggests that team sports dominate English PE curricula, yet bear limited relation to the activities that young people participate in, out of school and after compulsory education ( Sport England, 2001 ; Fairclough et al. , 2002 ). In order to promote life-long physical activity a broader base of PE activities needs to be offered to reinforce the fact that it is not necessary for young people to be talented sportspeople to be active and healthy.

While motor, cognitive, social, spiritual, cultural and moral development are valid areas of learning, they can be inconsistent with maximizing participation in health-enhancing physical activity [i.e. PE goal number 1 ( Simons-Morton, 1994 )]. There is no guidance within the English National Curriculum for PE [NCPE ( Department for Education and Employment/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 1999 )] to inform teachers how they might best work towards achieving this goal. Moreover, it is possible that the lack of policy, curriculum development or teacher expertise in this area contributes to the considerable variation in physical activity levels during PE ( Stratton, 1996a ). However, objective research evidence suggests that this is mainly due to differences in pedagogical variables [i.e. class size, available space, organizational strategies, teaching approaches, lesson content, etc. ( Borys, 1983 ; Stratton, 1996a )]. Furthermore, PE activity participation may be influenced by inter-individual factors. For example, activity has been reported to be lower among students with greater body mass and body fat ( Brooke et al. , 1975 ; Fairclough, 2003c ), and higher as students get older ( Seliger et al. , 1980 ). In addition, highly skilled students are generally more active than their lesser skilled peers ( Li and Dunham, 1993 ; Stratton, 1996b ) and boys tend to engage in more PE activity than girls ( Stratton, 1996b ; McKenzie et al. , 2000 ). Such inter-individual factors are likely to have significant implications for pedagogical practice and therefore warrant further investigation.

In accordance with Simons-Morton's ( Simons-Morton, 1994 ) first proposed aim of PE, the purpose of this study was to assess English students' physical activity levels during high school PE. The data were considered in relation to recommended levels of physical activity ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ) to ascertain whether or not PE can be effective in helping children be ‘fit and healthy’. Specific attention was paid to differences between sex and ability groups, as well as during different PE activities.

Subjects and settings

One hundred and twenty-two students (62 boys and 60 girls) from five state high schools in Merseyside, England participated in this study. Stage sampling was used in each school to randomly select one boys' and one girls' PE class, in each of Years 7 (11–12 years), 8 (12–13 years) and 9 (13–14 years). Three students per class were randomly selected to take part. These students were categorized as ‘high’, ‘average’ and ‘low’ ability, based on their PE teachers' evaluation of their competence in specific PE activities. Written informed consent was completed prior to the study commencing. The schools taught the statutory programmes of study detailed in the NCPE, which is organized into six activity areas (i.e. athletic activities, dance, games, gymnastic activities, outdoor activities and swimming). The focus of learning is through four distinct aspects of knowledge, skills and understanding, which relate to; skill acquisition, skill application, evaluation of performance, and knowledge and understanding of fitness and health ( Department for Education and Employment/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 1999 ). The students attended two weekly PE classes in mixed ability, single-sex groups. Girls and boys were taught by male and female specialist physical educators, respectively.

Instruments and procedures

The investigation received ethical approval from the Liverpool John Moores Research Degrees Ethics Committee. The study involved the monitoring of heart rates (HRs) during PE using short-range radio telemetry (Vantage XL; Polar Electro, Kempele, Finland). Such systems measure the physiological load on the participants' cardiorespiratory systems, and allow analysis of the frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity. HR telemetry has been shown to be a valid and reliable measure of young people's physical activity ( Freedson and Miller, 2000 ) and has been used extensively in PE settings ( Stratton, 1996a ).

The students were fitted with the HR telemeters while changing into their PE uniforms. HR was recorded once every 5 s for the duration of the lessons. Telemeters were set to record when the teachers officially began the lessons, and stopped at the end of lessons. Total lesson ‘activity’ time was the equivalent of the total recorded time on the HR receiver. At the end of the lessons the telemeters were removed and data were downloaded for analyses. Resting HRs were obtained on non-PE days while the students lay in a supine position for a period of 10 min. The lowest mean value obtained over 1 min represented resting HR. Students achieved maximum HR values following completion of the Balke treadmill test to assess cardiorespiratory fitness ( Rowland, 1993 ). This data was not used in the present study, but was collated for another investigation assessing children's health and fitness status. Using the resting and maximum HR values, HR reserve (HRR, i.e. the difference between resting and maximum HR) at the 50% threshold was calculated for each student. HRR accounts for age and gender HR differences, and is recommended when using HR to assess physical activity in children ( Stratton, 1996a ). The 50% HRR threshold represents moderate intensity physical activity ( Stratton, 1996a ), which is the minimal intensity required to contribute to the recommended volume of health-related activity ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ). Percentage of lesson time spent in health enhancing moderate-and-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was calculated for each student by summing the time spent ≥50% HRR threshold. HRR values ≥75% corresponded to vigorous intensity physical activity (VPA). This threshold represents the intensity that may stimulate improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness ( Morrow and Freedson, 1994 ) and was used to indicate the proportion of lesson time that students were active at this higher level.

Sixty-six lessons were monitored over a 12-week period, covering a variety of group and individual activities ( Table I ). In order to allow statistically meaningful comparisons between different types of activities, students were classified as participants in activities that shared similar characteristics. These were, team games [i.e. invasion (e.g. football and hockey) and striking games (e.g. cricket and softball)], individual games (e.g. badminton, tennis and table tennis), movement activities (e.g. dance and gymnastics) and individual activities [e.g. athletics, fitness (circuit training and running activities) and swimming]. The intention was to monitor equal numbers of students during lessons in each of the four designated PE activity categories. However, timetable constraints and student absence meant that true equity was not possible, and so the number of boys and girls monitored in the different activities was unequal.

Number and type of monitored PE lessons

Student sex, ability level and PE activity category were the independent variables, with percent of lesson time spent in MVPA and VPA set as the dependent variables. Exploratory analyses were conducted to establish whether data met parametric assumptions. Shapiro–Wilk tests revealed that only boys' MVPA were normally distributed. Subsequent Levene's tests confirmed the data's homogeneity of variance, with the exception of VPA between the PE activities. Though much of the data violated the assumption of normality, the ANOVA is considered to be robust enough to produce valid results in this situation ( Vincent, 1999 ). Considering this, alongside the fact that the data had homogenous variability, it was decided to proceed with ANOVA for all analyses, with the exception of VPA between different PE activities.

Sex × ability level factorial ANOVAs compared the physical activity of boys and girls who differed in PE competence. A one-way ANOVA was used to identify differences in MVPA during the PE activities. Post-hoc analyses were performed using Hochberg's GT2 correction procedure, which is recommended when sample sizes are unequal ( Field, 2000 ). A non-parametric Kruskal–Wallis ANOVA calculated differences in VPA during the different activities. Post-hoc Mann–Whitney U -tests determined where identified differences occurred. To control for type 1 error the Bonferroni correction procedure was applied to these tests, which resulted in an acceptable α level of 0.008. Although these data were ranked for the purposes of the statistical analysis, they were presented as means ± SD to allow comparison with the other results. All data were analyzed using SPSS version 11.0 (SPSS, Chicago, IL).

The average duration of PE lessons was 50.6 ± 20.8 min, although girls' (52.6 ± 25.4 min) lessons generally lasted longer than boys' (48.7 ± 15.1 min). When all PE activities were considered together, students engaged in MVPA and VPA for 34.3 ± 21.8 and 8.3 ± 11.1% of PE time, respectively. This equated to 17.5 ± 12.9 (MVPA) and 3.9 ± 5.3 (VPA) min. The high-ability students were more active than the average- and low-ability students, who took part in similar amounts of activity. These trends were apparent in boys and girls ( Table II ).

Mean (±SD) MVPA and VPA of boys and girls of differing abilities

Boys > girls, P < 0.01.

Boys > girls, P < 0.05.

Boys engaged in MVPA for 39.4% ± 19.1 of lesson time compared to the girls' value of 29.1 ± 23.4 [ F (1, 122) = 7.2, P < 0.01]. When expressed as absolute units of time, these data were the equivalent of 18.9 ± 10.5 (boys) and 16.1 ± 14.9 (girls) min. Furthermore, a 4% difference in VPA was observed between the two sexes [ Table II ; F (1, 122) = 4.6, P < 0.05]. There were no significant sex × ability interactions for either MVPA or VPA.

Students participated in most MVPA during team games [43.2 ± 19.5%; F (3, 121) = 6.0, P < 0.01]. Individual games and individual activities provided a similar stimulus for activity, while the least MVPA was observed during movement activities (22.2 ± 20.0%; Figure 1 ). A smaller proportion of PE time was spent in VPA during all activities. Once more, team games (13.6 ± 11.3%) and individual activities (11.8 ± 14.0%) were best suited to promoting this higher intensity activity (χ 2 (3) =30.0, P < 0.01). Students produced small amounts of VPA during individual and movement activities, although this varied considerably in the latter activity ( Figure 2 ).

Mean (±SD) MVPA during different PE activities. **Team games > movement activities (P < 0.01). *Individual activities > movement activities (P < 0.05).

Mean (±SD) MVPA during different PE activities. ** Team games > movement activities ( P < 0.01). * Individual activities > movement activities ( P < 0.05).

Mean (±SD) VPA during different PE activities. **Team games > movement activities (Z (3) = −4.9, P < 0.008) and individual games (Z (3) = −3.8, P < 0.008). †Individual activities > movement activities (Z (3) = −3.3, P < 0.008). ‡Individual game > movement activities (Z (3) = −2.7, P < 0.008).

Mean (±SD) VPA during different PE activities. ** Team games > movement activities ( Z (3) = −4.9, P < 0.008) and individual games ( Z (3) = −3.8, P < 0.008). † Individual activities > movement activities ( Z (3) = −3.3, P < 0.008). ‡ Individual game > movement activities ( Z (3) = −2.7, P < 0.008).

This study used HR telemetry to assess physical activity levels during a range of high school PE lessons. The data were considered in relation to recommended levels of physical activity ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ) to investigate whether or not PE can be effective in helping children be ‘fit and healthy’. Levels of MVPA were similar to those reported in previous studies ( Klausen et al. , 1986 ; Strand and Reeder, 1993 ; Fairclough, 2003b ) and did not meet the US Department of Health and Human Services ( US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000 ) 50% of lesson time criterion. Furthermore, the data were subject to considerable variance, which was exemplified by high standard deviation values ( Table II , and Figures 1 and 2 ). Such variation in activity levels reflects the influence of PE-specific contextual and pedagogical factors [i.e. lesson objectives, content, environment, teaching styles, etc. ( Stratton, 1996a )]. The superior physical activity levels of the high-ability students concurred with previous findings ( Li and Dunham, 1993 ; Stratton, 1996b ). However, the low-ability students engaged in more MVPA and VPA than the average-ability group. While it is possible that the teachers may have inaccurately assessed the low and average students' competence, it could have been that the low-ability group displayed more effort, either because they were being monitored or because they associated effort with perceived ability ( Lintunen, 1999 ). However, these suggestions are speculative and are not supported by the data. The differences in activity levels between the ability groups lend some support to the criticism that PE teachers sometimes teach the class as one and the same rather than planning for individual differences ( Metzler, 1989 ). If this were the case then undifferentiated activities may have been beyond the capability of the lesser skilled students. This highlights the importance of motor competence as an enabling factor for physical activity participation. If a student is unable to perform the requisite motor skills to competently engage in a given task or activity, then their opportunities for meaningful participation become compromised ( Rink, 1994 ). Over time this has serious consequences for the likelihood of a young person being able or motivated enough to get involved in physical activity which is dependent on a degree of fundamental motor competence.

Boys spent a greater proportion of lesson time involved in MVPA and VPA than girls. These differences are supported by other HR studies in PE ( Mota, 1994 ; Stratton, 1997 ). Boys' activity levels equated to 18.9 min of MVPA, compared to 16.1 min for the girls. It is possible that the characteristics and aims of some of the PE activities that the girls took part in did not predispose them to engage in whole body movement as much as the boys. Specifically, the girls participated in 10 more movement lessons and eight less team games lessons than the boys. The natures of these two activities are diverse, with whole body movement at differing speeds being the emphasis during team games, compared to aesthetic awareness and control during movement activities. The monitored lessons reflected typical boys' and girls' PE curricula, and the fact that girls do more dance and gymnastics than boys inevitably restricts their MVPA engagement. Although unrecorded contextual factors may have contributed to this difference, it is also possible that the girls were less motivated than the boys to physically exert themselves. This view is supported by negative correlations reported between girls' PE enjoyment and MVPA ( Fairclough, 2003b ). Moreover, there is evidence ( Dickenson and Sparkes, 1988 ; Goudas and Biddle, 1993 ) to suggest that some pupils, and girls in particular ( Cockburn, 2001 ), may dislike overly exerting themselves during PE. Although physical activity is what makes PE unique from other school subjects, some girls may not see it as such an integral part of their PE experience. It is important that this perception is clearly recognized if lessons are to be seen as enjoyable and relevant, whilst at the same time contributing meaningfully to physical activity levels. Girls tend to be habitually less active than boys and their levels of activity participation start to decline at an earlier age ( Armstrong and Welsman, 1997 ). Therefore, the importance of PE for girls as a means of them experiencing regular health-enhancing physical activity cannot be understated.

Team games promoted the highest levels of MVPA and VPA. This concurs with data from previous investigations ( Strand and Reeder, 1993 ; Stratton, 1996a , 1997 ; Fairclough, 2003a ). Because these activities require the use of a significant proportion of muscle mass, the heart must maintain the oxygen demand by beating faster and increasing stroke volume. Moreover, as team games account for the majority of PE curriculum time ( Fairclough and Stratton, 1997 ; Sport England, 2001 ), teachers may actually be more experienced and skilled at delivering quality lessons with minimal stationary waiting and instruction time. Similarly high levels of activity were observed during individual activities. With the exception of throwing and jumping themes during athletics lessons, the other individual activities (i.e. swimming, running, circuit/station work) involved simultaneous movement of the arms and legs over variable durations. MVPA and VPA were lowest during movement activities, which mirrored previous research involving dance and gymnastics ( Stratton, 1997 ; Fairclough, 2003a ). Furthermore, individual games provided less opportunity for activity than team games. The characteristics of movement activities and individual games respectively emphasize aesthetic appreciation and motor skill development. This can mean that opportunities to promote cardiorespiratory health may be less than in other activities. However, dance and gymnastics can develop flexibility, and muscular strength and endurance. Thus, these activities may be valuable to assist young people in meeting the HDA's secondary physical activity recommendation, which relates to musculo-skeletal health ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ).

The question of whether PE can solely contribute to young people's cardiorespiratory fitness was clearly answered. The students engaged in small amounts of VPA (4.5 and 3.3 min per lesson for boys and girls, respectively). Combined with the limited frequency of curricular PE, these were insufficient durations for gains in cardiorespiratory fitness to occur ( Armstrong and Welsman, 1997 ). Teachers who aim to increase students' cardiorespiratory fitness may deliver lessons focused exclusively on high intensity exercise, which can effectively increase HR ( Baquet et al. , 2002 ), but can sometimes be mundane and have questionable educational value. Such lessons may undermine other efforts to promote physical activity participation if they are not delivered within an enjoyable, educational and developmental context. It is clear that high intensity activity is not appropriate for all pupils, and so opportunities should be provided for them to be able to work at developmentally appropriate levels.

Students engaged in MVPA for around 18 min during the monitored PE lessons. This approximates a third of the recommended daily hour ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ). When PE activity is combined with other forms of physical activity support is lent to the premise that PE lessons can directly benefit young people's health status. Furthermore, for the very least active children who should initially aim to achieve 30 min of activity per day ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ), PE can provide the majority of this volume. However, a major limitation to PE's utility as a vehicle for physical activity participation is the limited time allocated to it. The government's aspiration is for all students to receive 2 hours of PE per week ( Department for Education and Employment/Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 1999 ), through curricular and extra-curricular activities. While some schools provide this volume of weekly PE, others are unable to achieve it ( Sport England, 2001 ). The HDA recommend that young people strive to achieve 1 hour's physical activity each day through many forms, a prominent one of which is PE. The apparent disparity between recommended physical activity levels and limited curriculum PE time serves to highlight the complementary role that education, along with other agencies and voluntary organizations must play in providing young people with physical activity opportunities. Notwithstanding this, increasing the amount of PE curriculum time in schools would be a positive step in enabling the subject to meet its health-related goals. Furthermore, increased PE at the expense of time in more ‘academic’ subjects has been shown not to negatively affect academic performance ( Shephard, 1997 ; Sallis et al. , 1999 ; Dwyer et al. , 2001 ).

Physical educators are key personnel to help young people achieve physical activity goals. As well as their teaching role they are well placed to encourage out of school physical activity, help students become independent participants and inform them about initiatives in the community ( McKenzie et al. , 2000 ). Also, they can have a direct impact by promoting increased opportunities for physical activity within the school context. These could include activities before school ( Strand et al. , 1994 ), during recess ( Scruggs et al. , 2003 ), as well as more organized extra-curricular activities at lunchtime and after school. Using time in this way would complement PE's role by providing physical activity opportunities in a less structured and pedagogically constrained manner.

This research measured student activity levels during ‘typical’, non-intensified PE lessons. In this sense it provided a representative picture of the frequency, intensity and duration of students' physical activity engagement during curricular PE. However, some factors should be considered when interpreting the findings. First, the data were cross-sectional and collected over a relatively short time frame. Tracking students' activity levels over a number of PE activities may have allowed a more accurate account of how physical activity varies in different aspects of the curriculum. Second, monitoring a larger sample of students over more lessons may have enabled PE activities to be categorized into more homogenous groups. Third, monitoring lessons in schools from a wider geographical area may have enabled stronger generalization of the results. Fourth, it is possible that the PE lessons were taught differently, and that the students acted differently as a result of being monitored and having the researchers present during lessons. As this is impossible to determine, it is unknown how this might have affected the results. Fifth, HR telemetry does not provide any contextual information about the monitored lessons. Also, HR is subject to emotional and environmental factors when no physical activity is occurring. Future work should combine objective physical activity measurement with qualitative or quantitative methods of observation.

During PE, students took part in health-enhancing activity for around one third of the recommended 1-hour target ( Biddle et al. , 1998 ). PE obviously has potential to help meet this goal. However, on the basis of these data, combined with the weekly frequency of PE lessons, it is clear that PE can only do so much in supplementing young people's daily volume of physical activity. Students need to be taught appropriate skills, knowledge and understanding if they are to optimize their physical activity opportunities in PE. For improved MVPA levels to occur, health-enhancing activity needs to be recognized as an important element of lessons. PE may make a more significant contribution to young people's regular physical activity participation if lessons are planned and delivered with MVPA goals in mind.

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Strand, B., Quinn, P.B., Reeder, S. and Henke, R. ( 1994 ) Early bird specials and ten minute tickers. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance , 65 , 6 –9.

Stratton, G. ( 1996 a) Children's heart rates during physical education lessons: a review. Pediatric Exercise Science , 8 , 215 –233.

Stratton, G. ( 1996 b) Physical activity levels of 12–13 year old schoolchildren during European handball lessons: gender and ability group differences. European Physical Education Review , 2 , 165 –173.

Stratton, G. ( 1997 ) Children's heart rates during British physical education lessons, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education . 16 , 357 –367.

US Department of Health and Human Services ( 2000 ) Healthy People 2010: Understanding and Improving Health . USDHHS, Washington DC.

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Zeigler, E. ( 1994 ) Physical education's 13 principal principles. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance , 65 , 4 –5.

Author notes

1REACH Group and School of Physical Education, Sport and Dance, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L17 6BD and 2REACH Group and Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK

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Articles on Physical education

Displaying 1 - 20 of 35 articles.

academic articles on physical education

Is exercise really good for the brain? Here’s what the science says

Matthieu P. Boisgontier , L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa and Boris Cheval , Université de Genève

academic articles on physical education

Girls should get the chance to play football at school – but PE needs a major rehaul for all students

Shrehan Lynch , University of East London

academic articles on physical education

School playgrounds are getting squeezed: here are 8 ways to keep students active in small spaces

Brendon Hyndman , Charles Sturt University ; Jessica Amy Sears , Charles Sturt University , and Vaughan Cruickshank , University of Tasmania

academic articles on physical education

Outdoor education has psychological, cognitive and physical health benefits for children

Jean-Philippe Ayotte-Beaudet , Université de Sherbrooke and Felix Berrigan , Université de Sherbrooke

academic articles on physical education

London’s Olympic legacy: research reveals why £2.2 billion investment in primary school PE has failed teachers

Vicky Randall , University of Winchester and Gerald Griggs

academic articles on physical education

How sport can help young people to become better citizens

Vaughan Cruickshank , University of Tasmania and Casey Peter Mainsbridge , University of Tasmania

academic articles on physical education

Missing out on PE during lockdowns means students will be playing  catch-up

Jora Broerse , Victoria University ; Cameron Van der Smee , Federation University Australia , and Jaimie-Lee Maple , Victoria University

academic articles on physical education

Disabled children still face exclusion in PE – here’s what needs to change

Tom Gibbons , Teesside University and Kevin Dixon , Northumbria University, Newcastle

academic articles on physical education

Taking the circus to school: How kids benefit from learning trapeze, juggling and unicycle in gym class

Marion Cossin , Université de Montréal

academic articles on physical education

Thinking of choosing a health or PE subject in years 11 and 12? Here’s what you need to know

Brendon Hyndman , Charles Sturt University and Vaughan Cruickshank , University of Tasmania

academic articles on physical education

Aussie kids are some of the least active in the world. We developed a cheap school program that gets results

Taren Sanders , Australian Catholic University ; Chris Lonsdale , Australian Catholic University ; David Lubans , University of Newcastle ; Michael Noetel , Australian Catholic University , and Philip D Parker , Australian Catholic University

academic articles on physical education

When men started to obsess over  six-packs

Conor Heffernan , The University of Texas at Austin

academic articles on physical education

PE can do much more than keep children fit – but its many benefits are often overlooked

David Grecic , University of Central Lancashire ; Andrew Sprake , University of Central Lancashire , and Robin Taylor , University of Central Lancashire

academic articles on physical education

Distance learning makes it harder for kids to exercise, especially in low-income communities

Katelyn Esmonde , Johns Hopkins University and Keshia Pollack Porter , Johns Hopkins University

academic articles on physical education

Kids need physical education – even when they can’t get it at school

Collin A. Webster , University of South Carolina

academic articles on physical education

Learning through adventure: the many skills that can be taught outside the classroom

Gary Stidder , University of Brighton

academic articles on physical education

Kids aren’t getting enough exercise, even in sporty Seattle

Julie McCleery , University of Washington

academic articles on physical education

Bushwalking and bowls in schools: we need to teach kids activities they’ll go on to enjoy

Vaughan Cruickshank , University of Tasmania ; Brendon Hyndman , Charles Sturt University , and Shane Pill , Flinders University

academic articles on physical education

How children who dread PE lessons at school can be given a sporting chance

Kiara Lewis , University of Huddersfield

academic articles on physical education

Look up north. Here’s how Aussie kids can move more at school, Nordic style

Katja Siefken , University of South Australia ; Carol Maher , University of South Australia , and Charlotte Pawlowski , University of Southern Denmark

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Program Director – Health and Physical Education, Maths/Science, Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania

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Physical Education and Sports: A Backbone of the Entire Community in the Twenty-First Century

Jean de dieu habyarimana.

1 Department of Physical Education and Sports Training, School of Physical Education, Minglun Campus, Henan University, Kaifeng 475001, China; rf.oohay@ueidhdj

Etienne Tugirumukiza

2 Department of Physical Education and Sports Coaching, School of Physical Education and Sports Coaching, Shanghai University of Sport, Shanghai 200433, China; moc.liamg@21arigutenneite

Associated Data

To prevent the assumptions of availability of required data, the authors needed to ensure the availability of required data before further stages of the study.

The current state of physical inactivity of people can be traced back to the people who have been denied their fundamental human right to physical education and participation in school sports (PES). Growing up without the fundamental human right to free movement and participation in sports activities enabled students to stay physically inactive. The purpose of this study was to explore what is currently known about the role of PES in all areas of human development and SDGs and to raise awareness about PES, which has been shown to be on the decline. To increase the study’s overall efficacy, an external desk research approach was employed to gather relevant information published online: reports, policies, charters, recommendations, and other relevant articles from various electronic databases and websites of international organizations responsible for PES, culture, and health. PES benefits are discussed in all domains of human development, including physical and mental health, cognitive, psychosocial, and moral benefits. Contrary to its importance to human growth as a whole, PES has been sidelined since the end of the twentieth century. An awareness of the subject of PES has thus been raised as a backbone of the entire community in the twenty-first century, so as to translate the promises and policies of PES into realities and practices.

1. Introduction

One of the most significant current discussions in physical exercises and public health is that a decline in PES leads to a corresponding decline in physical activity (PA), which contributes to an increase in hypokinetic diseases among school-aged children and adolescents. PES (a planned, sequential K–12 standards-based program with written curricula and appropriate instruction designed to develop the motor skills, knowledge, and behaviors of active living, physical fitness, sportsmanship, self-efficacy, and emotional intelligence), according to SHAPE America [ 1 ], has the potential to make distinctive contributions to the development of children’s fundamental movement skills and physical competences, as well as support the development of social skills and behaviors, self-esteem, and preschool attitudes, and in certain circumstances, academic and cognitive development, according to Bailey [ 2 ].

The overall goal of PES is to make its pedagogical approach of educating the body to be permanent by teaching children about movement and developing the necessary skills to become proficient in many kinds of PA, as stated by Guedes [ 3 ], as well as to develop the patterns and interest in PA, which are essential for healthy development and lay the foundations for adult healthy lifestyle, as reported by ICSSPE [ 4 ]. According to SHAPE America [ 1 ], the purpose of PES is to develop the motor skills, knowledge, and behaviors of active living, physical fitness, sportsmanship, self-efficacy, and emotional intelligence. In other words, UNESCO [ 5 ] elucidated that PES should be effectively implemented in order to provide a platform for broad social inclusion and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to define new forms of global citizenship. In this regard, UNESCO [ 6 ] proclaimed that the practice and full participation in PES is a fundamental human right for all. In this light, Wright et al. [ 7 ] substantiated that the school setting remains one of the conducive environments for promoting a physically active lifestyle among children and adolescents.

However, as stated by UNESCO [ 5 ], Weedon et al. [ 8 ], and Louis [ 9 ], PES is on the decline. PES declination has been strongly evidenced by UNESCO [ 10 ] in its survey conducted in all regions across the globe, revealing that (a) PES is being replaced by core subjects such as mathematics, the science subjects, language, arts, etc.; (b) PES-allocated curriculum time is being diverted to such core subjects; (c) PES teachers are being assigned other duties, such as logistics; and (d) PES is being replaced by cleaning or sending students home. On a related note, UNESCO [ 10 ] has stated that PES has lower esteem and status compared to other subjects. This was especially noticeable in North America, Africa, and the Middle East, with 77%, 69%, and 65%, respectively. Subsequently, the average time allocated to PES in primary and secondary schools remains low, i.e., 97 and 99 min, as against an ideal of 120 and 180 min in primary and secondary schools, respectively. Apart from insufficient curriculum time allocation, cancellation of PES lessons has also been reported to the extent of 100% in North America, 65% in both Africa and the Middle East, and 52% in Latin America/Caribbean, according to UNESCO [ 10 ].

On account of this PES downturn, the prevalence of global physical inactivity among children and youth has been observed to be particularly high. For instance, the findings of a research study conducted by Guthold et al. [ 11 ] reported that 81% of adolescents were not physically active, of which 77.6% and 84.7% were boys and girls, respectively. Another example of what Guthold et al. [ 11 ] meant is that observed by Kimm et al. [ 12 ], who reported a 100% and 64% decline in habitual leisure-time PA for African-American girls and White girls by the age of 16 or 17 years old, respectively. From this standpoint, it was noted that such a decline in PA increases with age, particularly in high-income countries, according to Hallal et al. [ 13 ] and Corder et al. [ 14 ]. More recently, Remmers et al. [ 15 ], Telama and Yang [ 16 ], and Caspersen et al. [ 17 ] published research studies that show that PA decline occurs between the ages of 12 and 13 years onwards. At this point, it is worth noting that Aubert et al. [ 18 ] observed that more than 70% of youngsters in various countries do not meet the PA level needed for a healthy life. Increasingly important is the fact that only 20% of the world’s adolescents are physically active, according to WHO [ 19 ].

In a similar vein, it has been pointed out that one in four, equivalent to 23% of adults, and three in four, equivalent to 81%, of adolescents aged 11–17 years do not meet the global WHO recommendations on PA for health, according to UN-Habitat [ 20 ].

In view of this emerging physical inactivity, sedentary health-based diseases and disorders, as well as the global health crisis, remain unresolved issues. According to Toschke et al. [ 21 ], chronic diseases have been particularly prevalent among children and adolescents, due to a lack of effective PA. To further clarify this, according to WHO [ 22 ] and Lin et al. [ 23 ], over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5–19 were classified as overweight or obese in 2016, while 476.0 million children and adolescents were diagnosed with diabetes mellitus in 2017.

Increasingly, negative consequences in various domains such as physical (worsened bone density, strength, and flexibility), psychological (increase in the occurrence of major depression, poor concentration and self-esteem, negative bullying), and academic (decrease in standardized test grade) have also been reported by Rasberry et al. [ 24 ]. Above all, physical inactivity was ranked third among the six risk factors, accounting for 19% of global fatalities and 7% of global DALYs. Moreover, according to WHO [ 25 ], physical inactivity is responsible for 21–25%, 27%, and 30% of breast and colon cancer burden, diabetes, and ischemic heart disease burden.

In another example, WHO [ 26 ] reported that mental health conditions currently account for 16% of the global burden of diseases and injury in children aged 10–19 years old. In this light, depression has been identified as one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. Similarly, suicide is reported as the third leading cause of death in children aged 15–19 years old.

Physical inactivity is increasingly recognized as a serious, worldwide public health concern, especially among young people (school-aged children and adolescents). This is happening at a time when PES, which has been shown to be a single subject with the potential to provide the students with various benefits, including health-related ones, UNESCO [ 5 ] (p. 6) is on the decline. In fact, it is evident that the entire community is suffering from a physical inactivity epidemic, especially among young people. As such, research to date has tended to focus on PA rather than PES.

This current paper therefore seeks to remedy these problems by analyzing the significance of PES in various domains identified as cognitive, physical, affective, healthy, social, moral, cultural domains, and SDGs as well as raising an awareness of PES in order to encourage governments, organizations responsible for PES, and schools to translate promises into practice.

2. Brief Background of PES

The starting point of PES can be traced back to the early societies, whereby their education philosophy was, according to Van Dalen and Bennett [ 27 ], education for survival. In this regard, the purpose of education was to ensure the survival of society. Thus, the curriculum was made up of courses such as hunting, throwing, running, jumping, etc., in line with strengthening the people to find food and protect their families against harmful animals and other disasters.

In a similar vein, the philosophical foundation of ancient Greeks on education was the notion of dualism, which, in the Greek curriculum, was featured under two components, namely gymnastics and academics, according to Laker [ 28 ]. In essence, education aimed to ensure the aesthetic and physical development of the body by means of sport; specifically, Sparta promoted PES by targeting military fitness, as opposed to the more holistic education for Athens.

During the Dark Ages, the aims of developing the body and mind equally that came from the Greek civilization, which considered the body as a partner or guardian of the mind and soul, became devalued. Later on, during the Renaissance (rebirth, discovery age), the development of a complete person as a priority was recovered by the Greeks, since such fully educated people were in need to take their place in a polite and cultured society. Hence, PES as a component of holistic education was in service of the needs of the society, according to Laker [ 28 ]. Until around 1820, much of focus of schools was on PES expressed in gymnastics, hygiene training, and care and development of the human body. By the year 1950, major courses in PES had been introduced in over 400 institutes to promote PES.

Even though this was considered an outstanding progress, it did not lead to the success of PES as a legitimate subject in all schools worldwide. The evidence suggests that, later in the 20th century (1970s–1980s), PES suffered a strong decline that is associated with the increased availability of other subjects, whereby the attention, time, and values assigned to PES were shifted to academics, according to Excite Education [ 29 ].

Consequently, it was noted that both pedagogy professionals and practitioners failed to assume their responsibilities of clarifying the nature of the field at the school level and advocating for its restoration in order to address the PES crisis, as claimed by Guedes [ 3 ]. Realizing this crisis, UNESCO initiated and enforced the international charter of PES across the world on 21 November 1978.

With the PES decline, the International Council for Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE) was established to tackle the problem at hand. It is in this context that the first international summit was organized on 3–5 November 1999 in Berlin by ICSSPE with support from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and WHO, bringing together policymakers, physical education practitioners from around the world, researchers, and administrators to share all necessary information concerning PES.

Reporting his observations, Hardman [ 30 ] documented his findings from the international summit which reaffirmed the perilous position of PES to the extent that the UNESCO’s 1978 international charter of PES was found to be unimplemented. What is more, it was noted that PES was pushed into a defensive position under which it faced a reduction of curriculum time allocation, deficient resources (financial, material, and human), and marginalization associated with low value, status, and esteem by authorities. Until now, there has been a need to turn promises into realities and policies into actions if threats are to be vanquished and a convenient future for PES is to be maintained.

3. Material and Methods

This review was conducted by adopting the external desk research method from Mangal and Shubhra [ 31 ] used to enhance the overall effectiveness of the research. For the purpose of this study, a comprehensive search was carried out to retrieve related reports, policies, charters, guidelines, international position statements, and support statements, as well as other relevant documents and articles. For the sake of documenting the analysis method, as well as inclusion criteria, a search protocol was designed in advance. In so doing, a search strategy for the identification of works in the relevant literature containing key terms in their title and abstract was developed. This search strategy was tailored to Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, PubMed, and Eric. The search terms used with Boolean Operators were “physical education and school sports” AND “cognitive OR physical OR affective OR healthy OR social OR moral OR culture” OR “Sustainable development goals”.

The search focus was mainly on the existing English literature related to the role of PES in the field of social sciences and health sciences. Thus, it was narrowed to subject areas identified as PA, sports, recess, recreation, and dance. The researchers included study publications, reports, and data and information from census or other scientific data-collection procedures to ensure validity and dependability. Thus, in light of preventing personal bias, information and data collected from personal diaries, newspapers, and magazines were excluded from this study. Similarly, the researchers ensured that the relevant data were available before undertaking further stages of this study in order to avoid making assumptions about the availability of the required data.

4. Benefits of Physical Education and School Sports

The European parliament 2007 resolution [ 32 ] declared the following: “PES has the propensity to make significant and distinctive contributions to children, schools and wider society: respect for the body, integrated development of mind and body, understanding of PA in health promotion, psycho-social development (self-esteem and self-confidence), social and cognitive development and academic achievement, socialisation and social skills (tolerance and respect for others, co-operation and cohesion, leadership, team spirit, antidote to antisocial behavior) and aesthetic, spiritual, emotional and moral (fair play, character-building) development, a panacea for resolution of the obesity epidemic, inactivity crisis and sedentary lifestyle, enhancement of quality of life etc.”.

PES, according to SHAPE America [ 1 ] creates a framework of life skills that shapes the whole person, encouraging smart choices and cultivating a healthy lifestyle, while both PA and effective PES are proven essential elements in the formative growth of children and adolescents, as well as an evidence-based approach to improving academics and benefiting students’ physical, cognitive, and mental health. The section hereunder therefore explored the role of PES under cognitive, physical, affective, healthy, social, moral, cultural domains and SDGs.

4.1. Cognitive, Academic Performance and Brain Health

A healthier body, academic performance, cognitive development, and lifelong brain health have all been linked to the time students spent participating in PA either as a one-time event or habitual. As a matter of fact, Plato, Aristotle, and Rousseau, the classical scholars of education in the 18th century, contended that the development of the body has to balance that of the mind [ 33 ].

To bring to light the issue of improved academic performance and cognitive development through PES, several studies have been carried out to establish the contribution of PES in improving students’ cognitive development, brain health, and academic achievements.

As a matter of concern, improvement in measures of cognitive skills and attitudes are positively benefited from improved PA engagement level in PES. Hence, participating in a prolonged PA at school helps the students to increase their cognitive preparation processes because of a more effective working memory network, as reported by Boykin and Allen [ 34 ], Oja and Jürimäe [ 35 ], Reynolds and Nicolson [ 36 ], and Kamijo et al. [ 37 ].

In the same way, cognitive benefits such as executive function are accrued from PA participation no matter how long it lasts or how intense or frequent it is. Rather, Budde et al. [ 38 ] found that even a single occurrence of high-quality PA can improve children’s or teenagers’ executive function scores in an executive function test.

More importantly, Kramer et al. [ 39 ] bolstered that participating in PA improves not only cognitive development and academic performance of the students involved but also contributes significantly to maintaining healthier cognition in adulthood and even at old age. Thus, there is evidence that early childhood participation in PA helps in combating cognitive aging.

Equally important is the fact that improved academic performance has been closely associated with PA participation in conditions where students need to spend a certain period of time with a given intensity or in some cases frequently/repetitively.

In this case, Donnelly and Lambourne [ 40 ] established that regular participation in PES increases the students’ academic performance. This is evident in the case of Bartholomew and Jowers [ 41 ], who noted that better attention in the classroom, as well as on-task behaviors and concentration, is influenced by PES, which, in turn, results in improved academic performance.

The next similarity is an assertion made by Hillman et al. [ 42 ], emphasizing the function of PES in improving attention allocation and working memory to a single cognitive activity completed, regardless of the intensity and time constraints. A supportive view of Hillman et al.’s assertion was articulated by McNaughten and Gabbard [ 43 ], who stressed that even a short bout of PA equivalent to 30 min positively affects cognitive functioning in school-aged children.

Other researchers have also revealed that the positive effect of PES is more likely to be achieved provided that PA is delivered over a long period of time. In this regard, Gabbard and Barton [ 44 ] emphasized that a significant improvement in academic achievement such as mathematics performance is achieved through long participation in PA for at least 50 min. On a related note, the CDC [ 32 ] insisted that PES serves a positive impact on academic achievement if the overall PES time is increased.

In a similar light, it has been indicated that students’ executive functions such as attention and inhibition, healthy attentional process, perceptual skills, intellectual quotient, verbal tests, mathematics tests, memory, readiness, cognition, and emotional regulation and balance are increased when PES subject is given a high priority by allocating more time to engage students in moderate-to-vigorous PA, which results in overall academic performance, according to Sallis and Owen [ 45 ]; Verdine et al. [ 46 ]; Etnier and Sibley [ 47 ]; and Stevens [ 48 ].

As far as brain health is concerned in relation to PES, different researchers have conducted a variety of studies and come up with different views about the benefits of PA to brain health. PA affects the physiology of the students’ brain by increasing cerebral capillary growth, blood flow, oxygenation, production of neurotrophins, growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, neurotransmitter levels, development of nerve connections, density of neural network, and brain tissue volume, according to Trudeau and Shephard [ 49 ], Hillman et al. [ 50 ]; and Rosenbaum et al. [ 51 ]. Greater attention, information processing, storage, and retrieval; improved coping and positive effect; and reduced cravings and pain sensations have all been linked to physiological changes in the brain.

Hills [ 33 ] argued that active engagement in PES improves academic performance by increasing blood flow to the brain, increasing mental alertness, enhancing mood, and increasing self-esteem. Consistent with the findings of Hills is the findings of Shephard [ 52 ], which stated that changes in cognitive functioning (increased blood flow into the brain, increased level of arousal, and stimulated brain development) are a reflection of any improvement in academic performance after engaging in PES.

Contrary to the above are the opposing views obtained from other studies undertaken to ascertain the cognitive, academic performance, and brain health benefits achieved through participation in PES; they revealed no relationship between these variables, even though the former determined the significant impact. Such contradictions are dependent on the dose prescribed to PES so as to offer the benefits ascribed to it.

Fisher et al. [ 53 ] argued that active participation in PES has no correlation with academic performance. Moreover, Ahamed et al. [ 54 ] found no significant difference between the treatment and control group in a standardized cognitive abilities test after 16 months of a classroom-based PA intervention under a cluster randomized trial.

In the same way, Tinning and Kirk [ 55 ] found no difference in academic subjects between the students who were allocated 90 min/day participating in PA and those who had not been engaged in such a program. Parallel to these opposing views, Melnick et al. [ 56 ] found no or a trivial correlation between active participation in PES and academic achievement.

Another point to note is the null findings that were revealed between the contribution of PA and the cognitive or healthier brain. According to the null findings, PES is established neither to harm nor to benefit the students with cognitive development, academic performance, and brain health while engaging in PES. In this specific instance, on the completion of his study, Bailey [ 57 ] noted that increased PES time does not negatively affect cognition. Moreover, Trudeau et al. [ 58 ] and Trudeau and Shephard [ 59 ] confirmed that PES has no ill effect on academic learning.

The aforementioned existing literature that we reviewed presented contradictory views about the contributing benefits of PA to cognitive development, academic performance, and brain health of the concerned students, whereby some researchers revealed a significant association between these variables, while others found no relationship, regardless of those that claimed null findings.

Due to this inconsistency, in contrast to several research studies that undoubtedly confirmed various benefits of PES, it is clear that robust longitudinal cause-and-effect research is needed to explore the role of participation in a particular PA on cognitive development, academic performance, and brain health, since disagreements remain rampant on whether the relationship between PA and academic achievement is causal. It is also clear that further understanding is needed to ascertain the level of intensity and duration that children need to reach so as to fully gain the cognitive benefits available by participating in PA. However, much work still needs to be performed in order to examine the appropriate type of physical exercises to be undertaken concerning culture, gender, and age level of students such as children and adolescents that can lead to cognitive benefits, since educational demands change as children and adolescents change. Therefore, PES should be one of the compulsory subjects that is allocated appropriate time on schools’ timetable to expose students to a planned exercises providing the students with the opportunity to gain such benefits regardless of dose or intensity.

4.2. Physical Domain

PA has been established as one of the leading factors influencing physical health by curbing the causes of diseases, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, enhancing efficient functioning of the body, and providing remedial benefits, as well as health-related fitness within childhood and adolescence; and it continues throughout adulthood and old age toward a satisfactory future life, according to Sallis and Owen [ 45 ]; Bailey [ 57 ]; and Fernandes and Sturm [ 60 ].

In essence, Bailey [ 57 ] emphasized that PES significantly benefits the participants with general health through efficient functioning of the body; the remedial benefits include the correction of poor posture and the developmental benefits such as assisting the natural pattern of growth of the child.

Consistent with the view of Bailey are the emerging points documented by several researchers who argued that participating in quality PES improves the physical status of the participants in terms of body mass index, resulting in a normal weight within the school period and in the future. Fernandes and Sturm [ 60 ] pointed out that effective participation in PES diminishes the potential for future mass increase among children. In their own words, Madsen et al. stated, “more physical education is associated with lower Body Mass Index scores” [ 61 ]. On a related note, Cawley et al. [ 62 ] made it clear that PES lowers both body mass index and the probability of obesity among grade-five male students. This was also exemplified in the work undertaken by Freedman et al. [ 63 ], who substantiated that engaging in quality PES from early childhood prevents obesity, which, indeed, starts at childhood and persists all through life, leading to the risk of being affected by hypokinetic diseases such as coronary heart diseases and diabetes.

Another supporter of PES and health-related fitness, Sdrolias [ 64 ], in his study undertaken in secondary schools, contended that quality PES results in a significant improvement in health-related fitness and psychological well-being in high-school students. Similarly, it has been noted that PES reduces the odds of being an overweight adult by 5% each day per week, while normal-weight children are 25% more likely to be normal-weight adults if they participate in PES at least five days per week, according to Mensschik et al. [ 65 ].

The most obvious and important benefit of active PA engagement is the significant improvement in health-related fitness components (aerobic fitness, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, and body shape) in both school-aged children and adolescents, due to active PA participation. To bring this assertion to light, Chen et al. [ 66 ] examined the relationship between students’ physical fitness components and PA and noted that engaging in PES and recess, as well as sports/dance, significantly influences the overall health-related physical fitness. This finding is in line with the findings of the study conducted by Sallis et al. [ 67 ], who ascertained a significant association between the level of PA and health-related physical fitness among school-aged children and adolescents.

Unfortunately, PES, a single curriculum subject under which school-aged children and adolescents are supposed to gain opportunities to engage in quality Pas, UNESCO [ 5 ] (p. 6), has been mostly sidelined to the extent that physical inactivity has been declared one of the leading causes of death, disability, and insufficient quality of life, particularly in the Western world, according to USDHHS [ 68 ]. On the other hand, UNESCO [ 10 ] reported that PES is globally cancelled at 44%, despite the fact that it has been confirmed globally to be a compulsory subject, at 97%. This is a fact that indicates the inconsistency in translating policies into implementations. It is therefore clear that PES needs to be fully restored and maintained in schools by exposing the students to quality PES instruction within a recommended time depending on school level (elementary/secondary) or gender to serve its physical benefits to the students.

4.3. Affective Domain

Currently, affection is understood as a psychological and emotional well-being with associated components, namely mastery motivation, sense of autonomy, moral character, confidence, emotion, preference, choice, feeling, beliefs, attitudes, and appreciations, according to NRCIM [ 69 ].

At the same time, many affective benefits, such as happiness, enjoyment, and self-confidence, have been associated with active participation in PA. WHO [ 70 ], in its study about sports and children, validated that participation in PES improves self-esteem, self-perception, and psychological well-being of the participants.

As Gilman [ 71 ] has noted, the students who participate in PA experience more happiness compared to those who do not participate. A view that supported Gilman’s assertion is articulated by Bailey et al. [ 72 ], who pointed out that the 1909 syllabus clearly points out the affective outcomes of physical exercises as producing a cheerful and a joyful mood, as well as the expression of emotion. Some other interested researchers went further to determine the role of such happiness/enjoyment in future PA participation. Williams and Gill [ 73 ] and Sonstroem [ 74 ] reported that such happiness experienced within PA reinforces self-esteem, which, in turn, enhances further participation. Kimiecik and Harris [ 75 ] made it clear that such happiness also improves intrinsic motivation, which lowers anxiety, thus increasing participation.

Along the same lines, other studies have revealed some psychological benefits of PES participation. Mutrie and Parfitt [ 76 ] indicated that a positive correlation exists between PA participation and psychological benefits such as the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as emotional growth and expression. Active engagement in PES reduces anxiety and depression and increases positive mood, self-esteem, and restful sleep, according to Dunn et al. [ 77 ] and Landers [ 78 ].

Although these aforementioned findings may be valid, a view that contradicts the former is that of Steptoe et al. [ 79 ], who rejected the opinion of a positive association between PA and affective domain of human development after he conducted a study across 21 countries which involved 16,000 undergraduate students. He established a negative correlation between PA, exercises, and depression symptoms.

After all, not much is known about the mechanisms by which such dimensions of affective development occur, according to Dishman [ 80 ]. Increasingly, Thirlaway and Benton [ 81 ] raised an existing confusion that it is unknown whether some forms of PA are more or less beneficial to the improvement of the affective domain than others. Whereas other arguments have rejected the idea that all groups experience psychological benefits from being active.

To this end, it is clear that PES needs to be resumed and should serve the students with all affective benefits discussed in the aforementioned literature. Although much research still needs to be performed in order to ascertain the genuine mechanism and appropriate form of PA that is more likely to serve affective benefits to the students, qualified, trained, and competent teachers are needed to instruct the students through some instructional curriculum models such as sports education, teaching personal and social responsibility, cooperative learning, etc., that are evidenced to promote the affective domain.

4.4. Healthy Domain

Earlier in the middle of the 20th century, PES targeting health-related fitness came into existence. This is undoubtedly due to the evidence that indicates the function of PES in improving the quality of life through its benefits to the muscles, bones, joints, heart, and mental health, just to mention a few, among school-aged children and adolescents who continue to adulthood and old age. In this regard, several studies have been conducted to find out the role of PES in maintaining health and preventing the causes of some diseases that emerge as a result of a sedentary health style.

According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) [ 82 ], PA has several benefits in regard to various aspects of health, such as improved aerobic capacity, muscle and bone strength, flexibility, insulin sensitivity, and lipid profiles, resulting in the reduction of the risk of heart diseases, mental illness, and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, obesity, etc. These findings of IOM are in line with the findings of Bloomfield et al. [ 83 ], who carried out a research study on the role of PA on the life of the participants’ skeleton, bones, joints, and muscles. The findings of their study revealed that there is an increase in mineral accrual; an increase in bone strength which, in turn, reduces the risk of osteoporosis-related fracture; and, ultimately, an improvement in muscle strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, as these are found to be significantly influenced by PA participation. A supportive view was observed in the study conducted by Masurier and Corbin [ 84 ], who reported that active participation in regular PA significantly reduced the risk of major chronic diseases such as heart diseases, high blood pressure, stroke, some forms of cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. On a related note, WHO [ 85 ] substantiated that PA enhances physical fitness in the areas of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness; improves cardiometabolic health, particularly in blood pressure, dyslipidemia, glucose, and insulin resistance; improves bone health, mental health, and cognitive achievement; and reduces visceral adiposity.

More importantly, the literature shows that PA is beneficial to people of all ages, including children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly, provided people effectively participate in it. Hallal et al. [ 86 ] noted that the future morbidity (risk of fracture) is influenced by early PA, which is of great importance in the treatment, as well as the reduction in the rate and the severity of, some hypokinetic diseases in children and adolescents. Focusing particularly on children, the CDC [ 87 ] elucidated that engaging in PES and recess at school contributes much to improving cardiorespiratory and muscle fitness, as well as the promotion of a healthier body weight and body composition in children. Supporting this advancement of the CDC, the USDHHS [ 68 ], the CDC [ 87 ], and Bauman [ 88 ] asserted that a lower rate of chronic diseases such as coronary heart diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer; and the reduction of premature death are some of the benefits adults gain due to actively engaging in PA.

Nonetheless, a controversy has erupted over the most effective PA dose, including the type, intensity, and frequency required to provide students with such health-related benefits. On the one hand, some scholars claimed that no matter how long, how intensely, or repetitively you engage in PA, benefits will be accrued. On the other hand, the researchers emphasized that there is need for a specific dose standard that must be met in PES so as to obtain the benefits accruable in PES. Of utmost importance is the fact that intense and frequent aerobic PA has been strongly evidenced to provide many health-related benefits.

Boreham et al. [ 89 ] and Imperatore et al. [ 90 ] ascertained that aerobic endurance corresponds with high-density lipoproteins, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, body mass index, measures of fatness and insulin sensitivity, and arterial stiffness. Associated with the views of Boreham et al. [ 89 ] and Imperatore et al. [ 90 ] are the findings of the experimental study undertaken by Davis et al. [ 91 ] which indicated a reduction in body fat among children and adolescents suffering from obesity or overweight when made to start aerobic exercises early in the program.

Taking into account the intensity and duration of aerobic PA, Baquet et al. [ 92 ] bolstered that regular moderate or vigorous intensified aerobic exercises undertaken within 30–45 min per session three days per week within three months resulted in increased cardiorespiratory endurance by 5–15% in youth. Similar to frequent PA, Corbin et al. [ 93 ] revealed that participating in PA improves immunological function and curbs the symptoms of arthritis, asthma, and fibromyalgia.

Masurier and Corbin [ 84 ] stressed that early PA in life acts similar to a vaccine for many diseases which attack the body later in life, and it also reduces the risk of diseases, thus improving the quality of life. Equally important are the health-related benefits from anaerobic physical activities, i.e., strength training or resistance exercises. In this case, Faigenbaum [ 94 ] established that anaerobic physical exercises positively enhance the quality of different aspects of the health of participants such as cardiovascular fitness, body composition, blood lipid profiles, and insulin sensitivity. Consistently, MacKelvie [ 95 ] insisted that strength training improves bone mineral density and bone geometry.

As far as PES and mental health are concerned, mental illness has been regarded as a global burden. This is because, by 2010, mental illness accounted for 15% of the global disease burden, according to Biddle and Mutrie [ 96 ] and Biddle and Asare [ 97 ]. Young people are particularly vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and the rest of the mental health disorders. Though mental illness may seem alarming, evidence has shown that PA can help to reduce and avoid mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, as well as improve other elements of well-being, leading to long-term mental health, according to Ahn and Fedewa [ 98 ], and IOM [ 82 ]. Similarly, Ahn and Fedewa [ 98 ], Simms et al. [ 99 ], Biddle and Mutrie [ 96 ], and Dishman et al. [ 100 ] reported that active participation in PA lowers or reduces depression and its symptoms, anxiety and its sensitivity (a precursor to panic attacks and disorders), physiological distress, state of confusion, anger, and stress. It also improves mental health, dietary choices, and mood.

From the aforementioned literature we reviewed, PES has a substantial association with various aspects of health, including the body, skeleton, organs, and mental health.

In contrast, a sedentary health lifestyle is currently a major determinant of people’s health outcomes throughout their lives; an issue that could be linked to a lack of effective PES, which increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as hypertension and coronary heart disease; mental health issues such as anxiety and depression; cancers such as colon and breast cancer; and even diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis, etc.

The crux of the matter is that, among the American adult population, 66% are overweight and 32% are obese. Approximately 19% of children and 17% of adolescents are overweight, and 37% of children and 34% of teenagers are either overweight or at risk of being overweight, according to Masurier and Corbin [ 84 ]. These facts indicate that several mandates that maintain PES as a compulsory and inclusive subject delivered to both boys and girls remain elusive. Therefore, there is need for a rationale to raise awareness about PES to be recognized as an important subject whereby trained PES teachers, materials and equipment, weekly time allocated to PES on the timetable, and an adequate budget are put in place to serve its purpose for school-aged children and adolescents.

4.5. Social Domain

PES is seen as a single bedrock subject that equips students with social interaction within this technological era, which is no longer providing the opportunity for people to meet and socialize, as it should naturally be. In some respects, students, to some extent, enjoy various opportunities of meeting and communicating, developing leadership skills, and ultimately learning social skills and behavior, while curbing, at the same time, the anti-social behaviors through PES.

In view of this perspective, Hellison et al. [ 101 ] indicated that participation in PES instils positive social behaviors in school-aged children and adolescents, such as cooperation, personal responsibility, and empathy. Afterwards, such participation in some circumstances helps in curbing current youth epidemics such as depression, crime, alcoholism, and drug abuse. In its recent report, SHAPE America [ 1 ] pointed out constructive competition, conflict resolution, decision-making, cooperation, and leadership assumption aspects as some of the benefits students gain through their interaction in PES.

In a similar vein, the Europe report asserted that only PES provides students with the opportunities of meeting and communicating with others and developing leadership qualities. More importantly, it instructs the participants about relevant social skills such as tolerance, respect for others, adjusting collectivism aspects including teamwork-spirit, cooperation, and cohesion, just to name a few, according to Svoboda [ 102 ]. Another emerging view which supports this assertion was articulated by Bailey et al. [ 72 ], who addressed the influence of PES on current global cleavage by arguing that PES has the potential to connect children of different social/economic classes and even those coming from different nations.

Of particular concern, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) [ 103 ] reported the constructive and corrective impact of PES, whereby it helps in improving students’ attendance, behavior, and attitudes within the school, as well as lowers the anti-social and criminal behaviors, according to Andrews and Andrews [ 104 ]. Indeed, the views of (QCA) and the Andrews corroborated with the assertion articulated by Sport England (SE) [ 105 ] that stated that participation of school-aged children and adolescents in PES assists them to gain social outcomes such as opportunities for active citizenship, increasing their attitude for learning as well as reducing youth crime and truancy.

In contrast to the social benefits ascertained by several researchers and scholars introduced herein, PES has been being devalued through different forms pushing it into a defensive position identified as (a) attributing low status to PES teachers; (b) assigning alternative duties to PES teachers such as logistics; (c) diverting PES time, which is already insufficient, to core subjects; and, in some schools, (d) replacing PES time with cleaning, etc., according to UNESCO [ 10 ]. As a consequence of this PES devaluation, students are still experiencing unpleasant social behaviors such as disrespect among themselves and some other related behaviors, such as truancy, absenteeism, alcohol and drug abuse, crime, and intolerance, just to name a few, as reported by Jean de Dieu and Andala [ 106 ].

Therefore, there is the need to call upon governments of nations to enforce PES in schools, as stated not only in international policies but also in their national PES policies such as to remedy the status of PES teachers through adequate continuous professional development (CPD) so as to update their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and current pedagogical models appropriate to serve social benefits such as teaching personal and social responsibility model, allow them to regularly teach PES following timetable, and make PES a compulsory subject with accountability for attendance and performance such as the other compulsory subjects so as to bridge the gap between agreements and actions.

4.6. Moral Domain

Moral behavior refers to activities conducted by following the rules which apply in a certain social context such as formal school/class rules, informal societal norms, and even the expectations related to behavior. Thus, moral values include honesty, fairness, fair play, justice, and responsibility, as reported by Wright and Taylor [ 107 ], Lumpkin and Stokowski [ 108 ], and Stoll and Beller [ 109 ]. According to this perspective, the existing evidence suggests that many moral benefits, such as experiencing moral socialization, moral values, ethical behavior, citizenship education, and social and moral characters, are accrued from participating in PES when students are given the opportunity to engage in an effectively planned PES.

A notable example of these moral benefits was found in studies undertaken by Bloom and Smith [ 110 ] and Sabock [ 111 ], who elucidated that PES provides the students with many opportunities to experience moral values such as cooperation, competition, role-playing, rules, regulations, and goal-based discipline. Moreover, PES assists in gaining self-discipline and order, manual dexterity, and even determination, according to Bloom and Smith [ 110 ], and Bailey [ 57 ].

In his own words, Sabock [ 111 ] (p. 271) argued that “the arena of sport can provide one of the greatest opportunities for a student to learn honesty, integrity, and ethical behaviour”. It is becoming increasingly important that PES has been proven to be a paramount subject, simultaneously instilling in the students social and moral characteristics such as cooperation with teammates; negotiation and creation of solutions against moral conflicts; development of self-control, fairness, and good work ethics; and displaying courage and learning of virtues such as teamwork, as reported by Shields and Bredemeier [ 112 ] and Weiss and Bredemeier [ 113 ]. The next likeness was the view articulated by Romance et al. [ 114 ], who argued that active participation in PES has been established as a source of positive moral socialization, and, to some extent, deliberate interventions in PES settings can improve moral conduct.

Another emerging feature of a moral aspect through PES is a view that effective PES has been indicated as a foundation for good citizenship. Engh [ 115 ] suggested that quality PES results in a good citizen education, which is, indeed, what PES teachers are supposed to teach in educational athletics as they teach other PES components. Supporting Engh, Raakman [ 116 ] substantiated that participation in PES could help develop engaged and balanced citizenship.

Despite the fact that PES positively influence the students’ moral development, the contrarians against this prevailing knowledge argued that PES participation may be a causal agent of negative moral development among participants, according to Bredemeier and Shields [ 117 ], Priest et al. [ 118 ], and Collin [ 119 ]. Another view that contradicts the view of a positive association between PES and moral education was found in the study conducted by Collin [ 119 ], who noted that unethical and aggressive behavior, which destroys the development and well-being of young athletes and the whole society, can be the result of a win-at-all-costs philosophy.

Despite these contradictions in moral benefits accrued from PES participation, it is important to note, however, that the quality PES delivered by professionally trained and qualified PES teachers adopting some of the current pedagogical models acknowledged to promote moral aspects of the students through their constructivism approach, including sports education, which focuses not only on playing roles but also duty roles, has been acknowledged to serve the needful under the moral domain. Thus, PES needs to be welcomed in schools to serve all moral benefits attributed to it.

4.7. Cultural Domain

UNESCO [ 120 ] defined culture as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual, and emotional features of society or a social group that encompasses not only art and literature but also lifestyle, ways of living together, value systems, traditions, and beliefs. In a similar vein, Zimmerman [ 121 ] made it clear that culture involves religion, food, language, marriage, music, dressing style, the dualism of what is right and wrong, rituals, ceremonies, etc.

In contrast to the other domains, finding existing works in the literature that addressed the contribution of PES to maintaining or improving the culture of a given society, turned out to be complex. However, some views have been pointed out by some relevant organizations and scholars, indicating that PES plays a significant role in encouraging school-aged children and adolescents to recognize and respect each other’s cultural characteristics, resulting in the prevention of some bad feelings such as extremism and racism, among others.

An example of this act was found in the International Charter of PES, UNESCO [ 6 ] which justified that the right and freedom of participating in PES should be granted without discrimination of any characteristics, including color, gender, language, religion, national or social origins, political or other opinions, property, birth, or other considerations. A supporting view of this assertion was put forward by Wright [ 122 ], who advised that PES teachers should not conceive that their task tool is technical; rather, they should aim at nurturing certain qualities required for a democratic society, such as self-confidence leavened by an agreeable humility, curiosity, courage, persistence, kindness, gentleness, care for the less fortunate, and care for other forms of life.

Before approaching the end of this cultural aspect, it is worth sounding a note of caution in the context that such a relationship can be bidirectional; that is, quality PES can help the students to learn and maintain their respective cultural characteristics and values while respecting those of others, resulting in a harmonious society. On the other hand, there is a possibility that some of such variety of cultural characteristics, e.g., religion, gender, dressing style, etc., may negatively affect PES participation at school.

In this regard, having completed their study about the influence of family and culture on PA among female adolescents from the Indian diaspora, Ramanathan and Crocker [ 123 ] revealed that female adolescents are not adequately participating in PA as males do. This was explained as due to the cultural belief that they are scared of losing their femininity while engaging in PA, and the issue of the belief that they need to stay at home supposed and be engaged with domestic duties. Similarly, religious belief is another example of a cultural characteristic that lowers the desire to participate in PA in certain societies. For example, female students from Muslim countries do not experience opportunities to effectively get involved in PA because of restrictions based on their culture, such as the dress codes; prohibited close contact with males; and lack of related facilities such as a prayer room, clean washroom with clean water, and women’s sport and fitness foundations [ 124 ].

The upshot of all of this is that some cultural characteristics and values are still preventing all school-aged children and adolescents from fully participating in PES, and this, in turn, violates the PES international charter of 21 November 1978, that allowed PES participation for all, without any kind of discrimination. Another emerging cultural aspect is the concern that some situations whereby PES is not given a top priority for its successful implementation can results in violation of cultural norms. To this end, all institutions responsible for PES should ensure adequate CPD for in-service teachers or supply trained PES teaches who have necessary PCK to help students with different cultures to learn regardless of culture differences.

4.8. PES on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

It is important to signal our concern to the contribution of PES to the SDGs—a universal call to action that aims to create an equal and inclusive community with improved health by 2030. This ambitious plan consists of 17 goals with their corresponding 169 specific targets.

After the establishment of the SDGs, researchers in the field of education, particularly PES, conducted several studies to ascertain the contribution of PES in the context of SDGs and revealed that the majority of the SDGs can be achieved through the involvement of school-aged children and adolescents in quality PES. There is considerable evidence indicating that PES has a potential to create a favorable context which allows the promotion of different aspects associated with the development of the current SDGs, such as coeducation, entrepreneurship, cooperation, and respect.

The international conference of ministers and senior officials responsible for PES (MINEPS VI), UNESCO [ 125 ] established 9/17 and 36/169 goals and associated targets whereby sports-based approaches could make a significant contribution. To support the view of MINEPS VI, the study undertaken by Baena-Morales et al. [ 126 ] (pp. 7–10) explained the way in which 10/17 SDGs equivalent to 58.8% and 24/169 targets; that is, 40.5% could be achieved through PES.

Of little difference, Baena-Morales and Gonzalez-Villora, [ 127 ], who have made great strides in analyzing the role of PES to SDGs in three major dimensions, namely social, environmental, and economical dimensions, commented that SDGs should not be given much consideration as a reference, since they are too generic, but the specific targets make up SDGs.

Though some research studies raise a concern that the contribution of PES to the SDGs is slightly explored, according to Fröberg and Lundvall [ 128 ] and Baena-Morales and González-Víllora [ 127 ], others have explored the role of PA, sports, or exercises in general, Dai and Menhas [ 129 ]; focused their attention to the contribution of PES in relation to some selected SDGs, with particular aspects such as health and well-being partnership as explored by Lynch [ 130 ], it is clear that PES is a transcendental subject toward the achievement of SDGs, provided that it is given a top priority in schools worldwide. It is important to note that PES teachers should plan their lessons by linking the lesson instructional objectives with those of SDGs.

This paper provides an important opportunity to advance the understanding of the significance of PES in promoting a physically active health style in school-aged children and adolescents and the entire community, as well. It is therefore important to raise an alarm about PES enforcement to the governments of nations so as to empower PES in schools and make it serve its purpose for all students across the world.

5. Conclusions

PES has been evidenced to play a significant role in a holistic education to the extent of being considered as a backbone of the whole community in the 21st century, on account of the fact that school-aged children and adolescents are the ones that gradually become adults and later old people in their respective communities. That is to say, delivering quality PES to school-aged children is, at the same time, delivering an active lifestyle to the entire community throughout the life course. This is established based on the benefits obtainable from PES in all areas of human development, namely the cognitive, physical, affective, health, social, moral, and cultural aspects of human life, as discussed in this study.

The hindrances that impede PES from delivering all that it could offer to the school-aged children and adolescents which later affect the whole society include the following: (a) inadequately qualified teaching personnel; (b) insufficient time allocated to PES; (c) limited facilities, equipment, and materials; (d) deficit budget allocated to this subject; and (e) PE teachers detraction among others. Subsequently, a sedentary lifestyle has been mostly discussed as a pandemic among children and adolescents of this current century, resulting in suffering from hypokinetic diseases (coronary heart diseases, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis, diabetes, etc.), as well as mental diseases such as depression and anxiety. Moreover, nowadays some students are still facing poor academic achievement, leading to increased repetition rate, drop-out rate, and ultimately on-time completion rate, an issue associated with the current sedentary lifestyle among students. From all such drawbacks of physical inactivity, one should wonder how perilous this coming society will be in the case that all of these challenges against quality PES remain unresolved.

To this end, it is important to raise these questions for the concerned leaders and related practitioners across the world, so as to come up with an effective and sustainable solutions. Apart from international charters, conventions, national policies, and international and national guidelines and endorsements, civil and private organizations (agencies) promulgated to address the promotion of PES. Considering also the fact that majority of parents’ perceptions support inclusive and quality PES for the benefits of their children, as well as the consequences of sedentary health style among all children, adults, and old people. Why are the governments of nations still inconsistent in their effort to convert their promises (agreements) of promoting PES into implementation/practice? Why are the governments of nations not willing to initiate mechanisms that aim to produce the required professionally trained personnel with the required PES resources and adequate budget? Why are school leaders still reducing or diverting allocated PES time to other subjects? Who would be held accountable for violating the universal right of quality PES for all and thwarting PES subjects from delivering all benefits claimed under its name?

“ Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do ”. —Goethe [ 131 ]

Acknowledgments

The effort of authors toward the successful accomplishment of this paper and funding organization is highly acknowledged.

Funding Statement

This study was funded by The National Social Science Fund of China, grant number 17BTY078.

Author Contributions

J.d.D.H. conceived the study and drafted the original manuscript. E.T. retrieved the data and checked their eligibility. K.Z. supervised the study. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the findings and discussion. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

The authors declared no potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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