What’s the Point of PE?

Physical Education

Physical Education, widely thought to be marginally less important and not intellectual enough, now forms part of the Life Orientation curriculum in South Africa.  We’re sure that when you heard the words ‘Physical Education’, you immediately thought ‘pointless’ or ‘free period’. Think again.

Let’s start with Life Orientation. It was introduced in order to equip students with basic life skills and address personal, social, intellectual, emotional and physical – there’s our word – growth among learners. It addresses the way these facets all work together, as well as addressing rights and responsibilities and guides learners to make informed decisions.

And like any other subject, it needs to be passed. In fact, it’s now compulsory until Matric. And PE forms part of that.

PE: No Pain, No Gain

Physical Education was introduced to the curriculum in order to promote health and lifelong physical activity.  Thirty percent of students in South Africa are overweight or obese and this can lead to health complications later in life, as well as low self-esteem.

Along with this, PE also contributes to improved physiological health as well as social and moral development, as well as cognitive and academic performance. Sounds like what Life Orientation aims to do overall, right? And we all know that working up a sweat helps us de-stress and focus.

Every term a learner has to complete physical activity assessments that count towards their overall LO mark. Grades 10-12 have a one hour compulsory physical education lesson in a six day cycle. This is a structured curriculum with supervision and assessments.

Get a (Social) Health Check

Here’s what you can expect from the Life Orientation curriculum:

The subject contains the following six topics:

1) Development of the self in society

2) Social and environmental responsibility

3) Democracy and human rights

4) Careers and career choices

5) Study skills

6) Physical Education 

Some of the main benefits of LO include providing a platform from which learners can acquire life skills, democracy skills and vital knowledge about our diverse country and the world.

There are many life lessons that PE can impart on learners. International studies show that 40-60% of school leavers feel ill equipped to make informed choices regarding further studies and career choices. This comes at a high cost to individuals, who may study or enter a career they will later find a wrong fit. The value of Life Orientation is fundamental in light of the rise of disturbing behaviour and lack of motivation among our youth today.

Wits Life Orientation and Religious Studies Professor Rene Ferguson states that despite calls from the public and government to have the subject scrapped, it provides an opportunity to impact young lives in a way they might otherwise never have the opportunity to again.

“If the teacher actually cares to make a difference to change the way young people think and make a difference in their lives, the lesson will not be obsolete,”

says Professor Ferguson.

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So perhaps the question isn’t ‘what’s the point of PE?’ but rather, ‘what’s the point of Life Orientation?’

To further quote Professor Ferguson, it may be a mistake to assume a Maths teacher could teach Life Orientation just because they have a free period available. Does it really only come down to the teacher?

If a leader truly cared about the direction of their learners’ lives, the subject may be viewed very differently.

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