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Education, Physical


Education, Physical, instruction in various kinds of physical activity to promote the physical development and well-being of the individual. Physical education is generally taught in schools from nursery to secondary level, and in some countries, including Britain, is a compulsory part of the curriculum. It involves organized sports, gymnastics, dance, athletic activities, swimming, and outdoor and adventurous activities. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers physical education programmes an important part of its mission.

Education, Physical


The nature of physical education and sport today has been influenced by many cultures. For example, in ancient times, physical education consisted of gymnastics to improve strength, agility, flexibility, and endurance. The Greeks considered the human body to be a temple that housed the mind and the soul, and gymnastics kept that temple healthy and functional. Eventually, structured gymnastic and callisthenic exercise were abandoned in favour of sports.

Traditionally, the objectives of physical education have been categorized as either promoting “education of the physical” or “education through the physical”. Education of the physical focuses on the actual development of the body and physical skills rather than any results that can be achieved through physical activities, while education through the physical emphasizes the acquisition of physical skills and bodily development, as well as nurturing emotional, intellectual, and social skills in the process. The latter approach utilizes carefully selected physical activity as a medium through which desirable objectives can be met.


The scope of physical education and sport in society has widened considerably in the latter part of the 20th century. The two traditional approaches have become more closely interrelated, a trend that looks set to continue into the 21st century. Physical education and sporting opportunities, in general, have become more widely available, not just to the school-age population, but to people of all ages, in non-school settings, such as community and fitness centres.

With the increased awareness of the importance of an active lifestyle, physical education is seen as laying the foundations in young people for long-term health and improved quality of life. Many educationalists, administrators, policy-makers, and activity providers view physical education and sport as occurring at various levels. Introduction to the traditional major sports for most people usually takes place at school. As the range of sports opportunities widens, children increasingly encounter sports for the first time. Having been introduced to a sport, some become irregular participants, what is called the “recreation route”, while others may join a club and strive to improve personal performance, the “performance development route”.

Physical education, sports studies, and sports sciences are well recognized now as examination subjects at school, pre-university, and university level. Universities offer degree courses in areas such as leisure studies, community sport/arts/outdoor pursuits, recreation management, human movement studies, and physical education teacher training. National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in sport and recreation also provide routes into university education and the leisure industry. See also Physical Fitness.

Education, Physical

Reviewed By:
Chris Laws

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