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Bringing phys ed back for all

The pendulum is swinging in favour of physical education once again with the Department of Education adopting a memorandum of agreement to reinstate physical education at schools.

The memorandum is largely in response to the challenge of fighting childhood obesity. But the result is that teachers are placed under pressure to deliver on the sports field despite it being an area in which many have no training.

In reality, many schools cannot afford a specialised physical education teacher, and non-specialised teachers do not have the necessary skills to integrate or teach physical education adequately.

Karen Sharwood of the University of Cape Town acknowledges that there are not enough courses available to empower and equip teachers to oversee physical-education classes. There are few bridging courses and no ACE courses that are specifically structured to give teachers top-up skills to teach physical education.

Physical education in schools has been seriously downsized and when there is a physical-education class, teachers often dont know what to teach the children, or use the class to catch up on other subjects.

Teachers can bring in music and let children dance for an hour or they can play non-competitive, physical games, says Sharwood.

Sharwood is behind the national Youth Fitness Charter, which was launched in September last year. Among the charters key points are aims to protect children from being bullied by heavy-handed teachers, trainers or parents to excel in a particular sport. It also aims to remove unhealthy competitiveness in sports and to create a culture of exercising for good health.

It is also trying to refocus attention on the fact that South African children are not immune to the obesity problems that occur in countries such as Australia and the United States.

The obesity problems in South Africa are not as critical as in these countries. We do have an opportunity to do something now, says Sharwood.

Schools have seen a shift away from physical-education classes in the past few years as life-orientation skills training became the umbrella subject for religious education, guidance and physical education.

However, according to Claire Nicholson, of Wits Universitys human movement studies/sciences department: Life skills was a unique mix and a beautiful subject, but its shortfall is that it made it less likely for children to be engaged in physical activity.

Nicholson stresses the importance of having a specialised physical education teacher at all schools.

We cannot water down physical education. You wouldnt think of employing an English teacher who has only done a bridging course, and the same should apply for physical-education teachers, says Nicholson.

She says that under the new memorandum of agreement, physical education will still conform to the outcomes-based-education model and will be wholly integrated into the curriculum.

Nicholson says that it is hoped that as the memorandum is implemented, clearer guidelines will emerge on issues of staffing and equipment shortages. But, she says, there should be a big push to develop intra-school programmes and to involve private-sector partners to bolster the new initiatives.

Dina Engelbrecht from Witss school of education agrees that first prize is to have a qualified physical- education teacher in every school.

She says it is important for a teacher to have a passion for teaching physical education, as this cements the attitudes of young people towards physical activity throughout their lives.

But often schools cant afford a physical-education teacher and there are very few certificate- or diploma-type courses that teachers can study for, she acknowledges.

She suggests that teachers contact administrators of South Africas various sporting codes. Many of these bodies offer NQF level-one and level-two training in the sports they govern.

Many of the universities offer sports science and physical education degrees and Wits University is investigating the option of offering physical education as an honours programme within the next two years.

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