PE a forgotten lesson in COVID-19 lockdowns

Physical Education (P.E.), often seen as less important to the school curriculum than other more ‘academic’ subjects, took a further blow during the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to new research from the University of Tasmania and Flinders University.

Looking at a 10-week period in Tasmania when students were required to study online from home, the authors investigated how this impacted primary school P.E. lessons by speaking with the teachers who taught them.

The study found:

  • In most cases P.E. lessons didn’t occur at all – instead switching to fitness activities often held in between other more ‘priority’ lessons
  • Platforms provided to teachers made the teaching of P.E. very difficult and resulted in increased levels of work
  • Teachers missed their face-to-face interactions with their students and had concerns about how to deliver feedback online and keep their students engaged
  • Positive experiences included virtual cross-country carnivals and increased physical activity among families as exercise was a permitted activity during the Tasmanian lockdown 

Study co-author Associate Professor Shane Pill from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders University says Physical Education is an essential learning area in the school curriculum in Australia but it’s often not seen as a priority focus of learning.

Associate Professor Shane Pill

“Once teaching was switched online it was further marginalised as a subject, with the ‘education’ portion of ‘P.E.’ easily discarded in favour of simple physical activity or fitness,” says Associate Professor Pill.

“While physical activity is great for children and highly encouraged, the education part of the subject is important to help children have the skills and disposition to continue seeking out physical activity on their own. This development is in line with the curriculum progression expectations.

“With declining rates of physical activity participation and increasing sedentary behaviour among Australian children, P.E. is vital to ensure we teach kids the skills to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Teachers were given very little time or professional development to prepare online content and teach online; this needs to be addressed as online schooling continues in some states around Australia.”

The study authors have undertaken similar research in a high school setting with the results due soon.

‘Just do some physical activity’: Exploring experiences of teaching physical education online during Covid-19 by Vaughan Cruickshank, Shane Pill and Casey Mainsbridge is published in the journal Issues in Educational Research.

A further summary of the study can be found here:

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Research