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Physical instruction at the U.S. Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island, 1917

Physical education (PE) is the interdisciplinary study of all areas of science relating to the transmission of physical knowledge and skills to an individual or a group, the application of these skills, and their results. Included, among other subjects, are aspects of anthropology, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and sociology. Some treatments of the discipline also include spirituality as an important aspect.

In most educational systems, physical education (PE), also called physical training (PT) or gym, though each with a slightly different connotation, is a course in the curriculum which utilizes learning in the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains in a play or movement exploration setting. The term physical education is most commonly used in this way; however, this denotes rather that "they have participated in the subject area, not studied it."[1]

The primary aims of physical education vary historically, based on the needs of the time and place. Often, many different types of physical education occur simultaneously, some intentionally and others not. Most modern, Western, school systems claim their intent is to equip students with the knowledge, skills, capacities, and values along with the enthusiasm to maintain a healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Some schools also require physical education as a way to promote weight loss in students. Activities included in the program are designed to promote physical fitness, to develop motor skills, to instill knowledge and understanding of rules, concepts, and strategies, and to teach students to work as part of a team, or as individuals, in a wide variety of competitive activities.

School curricula[]

In the United States, the physical education curriculum is designed to allow students to experience at least a minimum exposure to the following categories of activities: aquatics, conditioning activities, gymnastics, individual/dual sports, team sports, rhythms, and dance. Students are encouraged to continue to explore those activities in which they have a primary interest by effectively managing their community resources. In these areas, a planned sequence of learning experiences is designed to support a progression of student development.

In all states in the United States, physical education is offered to students from grades K to 12. However, Illinois is the only state that requires physical education in all schools (even private schools) for all grade levels.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Mandatory physical education is up to each individual State and school district. Most states do require physical education 6th-9th grade and offer "elective" physical education classes 10th-12th grades.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Many school districts, especially those with limited budgets, cut back or eliminate on physical education from the curriculum.[How to reference and link to summary or text] About two dozen states required physical education in secondary schools in 2001, that number has since gone down.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

In Canada, physical education is required up to grade 10[How to reference and link to summary or text], although some provinces are considering extending this to grade 12.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In the United States, individual states determine the requirement for physical education in their schools; requirements in middle schools and high schools vary widely from state to state.

In France, physical education is required from age 6 to age 16 (mandatory schooling period).[How to reference and link to summary or text] It is actually taught by specialized state teachers to all secondary school students, mostly in coeducational classes : 4 hours/week at age 11, 3 hours/week from age 12 to 15 and 2 hours/week from age 16 to 18.[How to reference and link to summary or text] National programs and contents refer to the contemporary physical culture: sports, dance and circus.

In the United Kingdom, sports like netball, cricket and rugby are also played.

In Romania and Moldova, oina (which is similar to baseball), rugby, basketball and soccer are popular sports played in PE classes.

In New Zealand and Australia, softball, cricket, Australian rules football and sometimes rugby are played.

In Japan, physical education is more like what are known as health classes in the United States, although some Japanese high schools, especially in Hokkaidō, have the more common version.

In Sweden, sports like floorball and brännboll are played, along with internationally known sports such as soccer, basketball and volleyball.

In Spain, sports like soccer, basketball, handball and volleyball are played from primary education to bachillerato.


The majority of schools require pupils to changes into a different set trainers or go barefoot. A common uniform consists of a white t-shirt and shorts in the school color, but this is not a universal rule. For safety, some schools require boys / men to wear an athletic supporter as part of the physical education uniform.

Occasionally, certain activities will require a special uniform. For example, some schools require swimming as part of the physical education curriculum. In this case, students typically have to wear a bathing suit in either the school color or black with a swimming cap of the same color. Also, in games with two or more teams, students usually have to wear colored jerseys or cape-like garments over the usual uniform as a way of identifying team members.


There is some disagreement about required PE classes, especially in the upper grades and at the college level. Physical Education is promoted as a way to teach students about teamwork and sports, but also is a means to develop and maintain physical fitness. The latter goal requires regular activity. PE grading scales should be based on more than just athletic ability so that students who do not excel in sports have an opportunity to receive respectable grades, as these grades may be included in their GPA (which colleges look at when considering students for admission).

Many schools are implementing grading systems in that if a student is absent, excused or unexcused, points are deducted from their grade. Many parents and students find this policy unacceptable, as a person who is legitimately sick can get a lower grade just for being out of school a few days. While this applies to all classes, it is especially bad in PE classes because it is nearly impossible to make up work in these classes.

Another reason some people look down upon required PE classes is that bullying takes place in them. As long as students are playing the game, teachers are rarely concerned with what the students say or do to each other. This often gives bullies an opportunity to harass other students without being caught. Also, PE classes put emphasis on athletic ability, which gives bullies something to harass them about. The same rings true when teachers bully students.

Another criticism of PE classes, especially in the high school level, is the emphasis on body image and weight loss. Students often already have negative thoughts about how they look, and PE classes can encourage this, sometimes to the point that it cause eating disorders in some students. In some school PE classes, students are weighed on a regular basis, and their weight is recorded. In these cases, even if weight loss is not the school's primary concern, it can add to the worries of students who may be insecure about their weight.

See also[]


  1. Anderson, D. (1989). The Discipline and the Profession. Foundations of Canadian Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports Studies. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.

Further reading[]

  • Pangrazi, R. P. (2002). Dynamic Physical Education for Secondary School Students (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Benjamin Cummings.
  • Pangrazi, R. P. (2004). Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children (14th ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Siedentop, D., Hastie, P. A., & van der Mars, H. (2004). Complete Guide to Sport Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  • Pérez García, Á., Molina Jiménez, J.A., Millán Galindo, J.D. "Spanish Education". 2005.
  • C. Jensen & S. Overman. Administration and Management of physical education and Athletic Programs. 4th edition. Waveland Press, 2003.
  • J. Stillwell & C. Willgoose. The Physical Education Curriculum. 5th edition. Waveland Press, 2002.
  • D. Siedentop. Introduction to Physical Education, Fitness, and Sport. McGraw Hill, 2003
  • D. Van Dalen. A World History of Physical Education: Cultural, Philosophical, Comparative. 2nd edition. Prentice-Hall, 1971.
  • Kelly E. Duell, M.A. "Standard-Based Physical Education: Complete Lesson Plans for Children." 1st edition. Human Kinetics, 2006-2007.

External links[]

  • AAHPERD American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
  • CAHPERD Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
  • NAKPEHE National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education
  • SSDHPER Society of State Directors of Health, Physical Education & Recreation
  • PE4Life A non-profit Physical Education advocacy group.
  • PE Central Resources for Health and Physical Education
  • Sports Media Tool for everyone interested in Physical Education & Sports
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