You probably either have great memories of all of the fun games and sports played in gym class, or you have dreaded flashbacks of awkward, uncoordinated moments of humiliation. Not everyone is as athletically inclined as others, but whether you like phys-ed or not, we all benefit from physical activity.
However, more Ontario universities are cutting their physical education programs. Queens University was the latest school to announce they will no longer be offering the program.
It’s understandable why schools are having to cut the program. There is a shrinking demand. According to a recent Toronto Star article, Phys-ed experts alarmed by university program cuts, the number of applicants to the program has dropped by 15 per cent over the last few years, while there has been an increasing demand for more sought-after degrees like kinesiology. That could be because only 42 per cent of elementary schools in Ontario have designated phys-ed teachers, many of which are part-time.
The real problem lies in the lack of focus on physical education in elementary and high schools. Students are only required to get 20 minutes of rigorous physical activity a day. In high school gym is only a mandatory class for Grade 9. That’s only one semester out of four years of school. The small time requirements mean there are fewer teachers needed.
The fact is that phys-ed programs don’t get the same funding as math, science programs. When schools get low-test scores there is a visible response. Time and money are poured into boosting test scores and performance. But this isn’t the case with physical education. 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese and the numbers are rising. This is a problem, and it needs to be addressed in our schools.
There is some good news though. Great changes are happening in some school boards. The health and phys-ed coordinator at the Toronto District School Board, George Koutris, told The Star that gym class isn’t all dodgeball and contact sports these days.
“Things have changed now, it’s now small-group games so everybody gets a chance,” and with the new curriculum comes a focus on healthy lifestyles and healthy sexuality.
He said more than two-thirds of the board’s elementary schools have a dedicated phys-ed program, which is high compared with others. Physical and health education “is a subject just like math is,” and the lessons learned “last a lifetime,” said Kourtis, who also teaches phys-ed qualification courses to teachers who want to earn the specialty qualification after they’ve started working.
Science has shown over and over again how important it is to be physically active, and how movement can boost cognitive performance.
Reading, writing, arithmetic, and science are all important things to learn in school, but so is physical activity.