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“Views of Young People Towards Physical Activity”: Article Critique

For the past three years, I have been Head of Physical Education (PE) at an Independent Girls Secondary School. There are three hundred and seventy-five students at the school with approximately fifty percent of the students’ weekly boarding at the school. I know from experience that the inclusion of physical activity in the curriculum of young people is essential to their growth and development. In fact, the World Health Organization has said that in order for optimum growth to take place, young people must engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day (World Health Organization).

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However, recent headlines and statistics such as the one released in a study by the National Health Service in 2006 found that 16% of children aged 2 to 15 years of age and 24% of adults ages 16 were classified as obese (The Information Centre). These statistics and others such as the fact that a reported 86% of school-going children take part in physical education classes at least 2 hours a day (The Information Centre) have made me wonder if the PE curriculum we provide actually helps our students become intrinsically motivated to take part in regular physical activity.

Other questions which I feel need to be answered are whether the physical education we provide instills the values of good health education in students or they simply stop taking part in such activities once they leave school. Do we really encourage life-long participation in physical activity and sport or do we simply impose it upon them? Can we develop a more positive, inclusive, and enjoyable curriculum that relates more to the student’s interests and learning requirements than we may currently offer? In order to answer these questions, I have chosen to critically analyze an article from the journal of health education titled “Views of young people towards physical activity: determinants and barriers to involvement.”

The main article was written by Mulvihill, Rivers, and Aggleton is used to detail a 5 monthly research study which was conducted in-depth in six sites across England using a qualitative and exploratory approach that encompassed the view of 100 school-aged children in the 11-15 year age range. It also included the viewpoints of the parents of children enrolled in secondary schools in order to assess the limitations and compulsions towards physical education (Mulvihill, Rivers, and Aggleton).

The two other articles used to do a critical analysis of this are also from the same journal and the first by authors Green and Thurston, speaks of the viewpoint of teachers towards physical education and its promotion. It speaks about the promotion of health in schools and how the philosophies of teachers are being affected by the policies which have been put in place by the government today. It also introduces Health-related exercise as an effective tool for school-going children to gain an optimum level of physical activity during school hours.

It conducts a semi-structured qualitative survey with 35 physical education teachers from 17 secondary schools and eventually uses 25 teachers both male and female gender to make its sample for study (Green and Thurston). The second contains an editorial by Rhea which speaks about how the decreasing importance of physical education in schools has led to an epidemic of obesity which must be challenged for the sake of these children. The paper does not offer any new research material or research study but uses existing research to speak about the various problems faced by students at the personal, school and societal levels. It also ends by offering solutions to such problems which are both practical and useful (Rhea).

To begin my critical analysis of this paper, I will first level my main criticism against the form of study the paper by Mulvihill, Rivers, and Aggleton has conducted which is defined by qualitative rules. A qualitative study requires that the interviewer acknowledge the original perception of the responses given by the interviewee. Since Mulvihill, Rivers, and Aggleton must adhere to these rules there are of course limitations of this form of survey.

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To properly understand these limitations it is first important to understand the main point on which this article is based. The main point on which the questions of the survey and the tone of the article are based around is that there are many adults today who do not engage in enough physical activity for it to be beneficial to their health. Consequently, they have also observed that the lack of physical activity among children is also on the rise.

They have thus concluded from these two facts that children, who do not take an active interest in physical activities outside of the school curriculum when young, do not take part in these healthy activities when they get older due to lack of interest or otherwise. This is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of this article, it is based around the supposed fact that children who do not engage in physical exercise outside of school do not tend to do so during adulthood.

In order for the article to have any merit whatsoever, this point must be considered immutable by the reader. This is despite the fact that the points which were used to reach this conclusion were from research studies that were vulnerable to certain limitations as well. Such limitations may require the authors to perceive the intention stated by this fact rather than take it at face value which also opens up the issue of bias on the part of Mulvihill, Rivers, and Aggleton’s perception.

When we consider Mulvihill, Rivers, and Aggleton’s perceptions and their interpersonal skills, the authors’ bias in this study becomes even more important. The methodology of the research and the survey along with the questionnaire are all dependants on the personal perceptions of the authors. Thus there may be problems as the article can be suspected of having a biased perception of the research results in this case.

Though the bias itself may be a surmountable problem in order to fully understand the scope of the limitation being dealt it is important to know the issues surrounding the sample size of the questionnaire. Firstly, it is inherently difficult for the authors to manoeuvre around the problem of the questionnaire. Not only must it be taken into consideration that the questionnaire may not be universally acceptable in all areas being interviewed.

But also that the six sites chosen by the authors to interview people of secondary schools were not the schools themselves, nor were they controlled environments where the questionnaire could be answered without outside influences. Rather, according to the authors own contention the questionnaire was done in a variety of areas with groups of parents and students from different socio economic backgrounds. Additionally, the sampling which was taken for the study was unequal in the case of gender.

What this means is the number of women surveyed were more than men and there was no mention whether the survey was done in groups of mixed gender or exclusively men or women. The open ended nature of the study is further called into question when it is considered that many of the respondents choose to add, remove or change certain stipulations of the questionnaire. It may have been better for the authors Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton to employ a more semi structured form of questioning such as the one used in Green and Thurston research study or disregard this form of questioning altogether in favour of more close ended questions.

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It must also be considered as mentioned before that any form of analysis of these questions requires the authors to perceive the responses of their interviewees and thus does not lend itself to accurate statistical representation. While a more close ended approach would not require any need for interpretation on the part of the authors and would have provided accurate statistical data for comparison.

Thus, any conclusions reached by the authors have an inherent bias which is further aggravated by the inherent limitations of the study. It must also be considered that such viewpoints may not be those of the entire secondary school going community. If the authors have interviewed the children within the confines of the school individually they may have provided different answers from the ones they provided in groups.

It may also be considered that although the participants in the form of students and parents may have received guarantees regarding the anonymity of the study and financial incentives to give their viewpoints. They may not have been fully forthcoming regarding their opinions due to the presence of a recording device during the proceedings.

Another problem which is directly related to the main point of the research study as defined above lies in the direct restriction created by the active definition of the authors. The author’s contention of the defined “active definition” does not encompass the proper amount of exercise required by the youngsters in the survey, nor does it give consideration to the amount of exercise which the students receive in their schools.

Rather, by the authors own contention it merely serves to exclude certain students from the criteria which has been set. The authors also contends that there is an obvious bias present in the paper since by their research the members of the lower socioeconomic persuasion seem to have lower levels of physical activity.

Moving away from the system the surveys are taken in we can see that the authors merely concentrates on the micro issues regarding physical education, while the other articles in some ways do acknowledge the existence of macro issues. The macro issues are those issues which involve how certain societal institutions affect the practice of physical education such as politics or religion. While the micro issues focus more on an individual level.

They look towards the personal development of the individual such as that of health and self esteem. Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton keep the concentration of the study on the students of the secondary school and the parents of the children who study there and do not move beyond them to consider any other macro issues.

They may have been better served if they had broaden their scope to at least offer consideration to some macro level factors such as the perception of physical education teachers in these schools as Green and Thurston or even further to acknowledge the problems at a societal level as detailed in the editorial written by Rhea. However, the authors keep their research constrained at a micro level issue without even considering the mitigating factors which may be present and causing the problems in the first place.

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One extremely important consideration which was not taken into effect by Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton was the factor of the students receiving physical education in schools and thus taking this as a health promotion vehicle.

In comparison Green and Thurston acknowledge that health promotion in schools is one of the main vehicles by which students receive proper physical activity in their schools and also admits that legislation and policies from governmental bodies do bring restrictions to physical education teachers in terms of finding ways to promote health among their students. Additionally, in contrast to Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton, Green and Thurston also acknowledge that the National Health Service considers the adequate amount of exercise by students in secondary school per week to be in the amount of two hours, while the main article cites that students should receive at least one hour of exercise per day or at least half an hour of strenuous activity as to leave them out of breath at the end of such.

One positive sign in Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton research is that it complements that factual matter presented in the editorial written by Rhea. Rhea writes that one of the major risks of obesity in adults is the fact that they may be unfit during their youth. This can obviously be compared to Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton factual citations which show the correlation between young people who do not exercise and adults who have the same habits.

Giving a reason for this oversight, Rhea speaks about one of the main reasons for the weight problem which is transferred from children to adults. She says that it is due to the low participation of students in physical education classes. According to Rhea one of the reasons which cause the low participation of students in physical education classes is the low expectations of them by the school administration and the physical education teachers.

This can be compared to the research done by Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton who show how the attitudes of their teachers and their parents can severely affect the outlook the children have on physical education. They say that parents of certain children who do take part in sports activities outside the school do not encourage them or mildly encourage them, while those who do not are not reprimanded by their parents. Asian’s however, have greater restrictions from their households in participating in sports activities.

Rhea also speaks of students not being motivated to participate in such activities as a major reason for such an issue. This is perfectly complemented by Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton research which cites the reasons why students are not motivated to participate in physical education. Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton speak more about the problems associated with students with regards to physical education. They speak about how females in the group would prefer single sex classes to avoid the embarrassment of being watched by boys while they exercise.

They also speak about how females prefer sports such as gymnastics in contrast to team sports which require groups of people to work together. This is corroborated by the study found in Green and Thurston’s article which interviews physical education instructors who say the same thing. Rhea however, takes a different approach to both saying that one of that females do not contribute to these classes simply because they feel left out.

Though this may seem similar to Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton’s and Green and Thurston’s contention, it is not. She says that such students cannot participate due to the unwieldy amount of people who take such classes. Since the attention of the physical instructors is divided among several students they often feel like their needs are not being addressed and refuse to participate.

Both articles agree on several factors which seem to show commonality in all the school systems. One such commonality is the increased push towards athletics in schools instead of actual physical education which can benefit a major portion of secondary schools. Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton agree with the contention given in Green and Thurston’s research which shows that physical education teachers consider sport and physical activities in clubs and social environments outside of school to be the main solution to this problem. Another commonality between the two topics is that fact that both of them consider children to be less fit than they were 20 years ago.

They consider the main cause of this problem to be the fitness activities adopted by young people today. That they are more interested in activities such as watching television and chatting with friends rather than anything which may be construed as physical. Both studies refer to healthier lifestyles of their parents and the changing trends in youth culture which require a change in the physical education trends that are in place, saying that the solutions of yesteryear will not work today. They both speak about the importance of socializing activities to make them more attractive towards young people and that sports clubs offer such an opportunity for individuals to interact and exercise.

Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton conclude their study by providing the activity of dancing as a low cost alternative to many physical programs which seem to have problems related to funding and equipment today. Green and Thurston’s study however cites the use of health related exercises as the main solution to these problems saying that several institutions today have included it in their sports curriculum with great degrees of success.

In contrast to both Rhea speaks about a much broader initiative to bring change to the physical education in schools. She says that in order to bring true change to the physical education system which exists in schools today changes must occur on all levels. She says that the first solution comes on the part of the physical educators which are hired at these schools. They need to ensure that the student administration realizes the importance of such programs and the benefits they can provide to the students.

Additionally, it also falls to the administrators to hire such people who are motivated enough to bring such details to their attention and ensure that the purpose of these programs are fulfilled and the potential of the students is not wasted in pursuit of finding easy solutions. She says that it may also be prudent to realize that no matter how much any educator campaigns for change in the system of physical education, lack of understanding, budgetary concerns or even indifference may keep physical education teachers from having the tools they require to educate their students. Thus, improvisation may be used in order to circumvent the lack of equipment, time or manpower available.

Additionally, high expectations for students are equally important and could be pursued in various ways from ensuring that they wear the proper uniform, to being punctual and instilling other behaviors that will aid them later in life. Teachers can also educate the community about the benefits of physical education and interact with the parents of the students and allow them to see the programs which are in effect.

They can ensure that the students can receive a proper amount of physical education at home and in school, as well as getting their parents involved in order to ensure their health. Finally, they can rally support to bring the importance of physical education to politicians and representatives. They can ensure that information about the current state of physical education is disseminated in the news media and can also educate people about the dangers of not participating in such programs.

In order to further improve their study it may have also been advantageous for Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton to ensure that they would interview the students mentioned in the study within the school rather than outside of it in a public area.

This may have not only ensured that a much higher number of students were interviewed providing more factual results or that the study itself would have been more official since the participation of such schools would have shown the validity of the study itself. In contrast to this Green and Thurston sent requests out to several schools before the study began and ended with interviewing 25 male and female teachers from secondary schools and used them as a sample.

In order to further improve their research study it may have been useful for Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton to offer a more structured line of questioning with perhaps more close ended questions which may have offered more accurate statistics for people’s viewpoints. They may have also improved their study by including the several sociological factors which can immensely affect the results of this study.

These sociological factors mentioned above can come from the social analysis of the concept of physical education. In order to accomplish this task it is imperative to analyze physical education which cannot be done without considering its inclusion in other parts of society. It is essential to know how it fits into the mold of society in order for us to ascertain its place, purpose and potential. It is easier to explore this if the issues surrounding this topic are broken into their macro and micro forms (Laker 33-37).

One macro level issue comes from the mind of critical theorists who see physical activities as re enforcing the class structure on the individuals who participate in it. If we dissect this theory we find that it has roots within the organizational structure that is inherent in various sport activities. They cite the differentiation of familial background, environment, finances and education as being the main causative factors for inducing class into the equation.

Although this may seem ludicrous at first, it does become clearer if we consider that different schools today offer different curriculum in regards to physical education. Individuals with access to funds may attend private institutions with a much more diverse physical education program than other who simply cannot afford to go to such institutions and cannot partake in such activities. Additionally although psychical activity promotes a steady work ethic within an individual, it seldom allows social and economic stability within today society for a majority of those who participate. In fact it is estimated that on 1 in 10,000 male students who partake in physical activities at school will go on to become professional sportsmen, while the ratio is even less for women (Laker 33-37).

Although this point has been discussed in Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton when they spoke about the low physical activity which is present in the lower socio economic portion of the sample study or even later on when they spoke to male students who said that one of the main problems for them to participate in sports clubs was the cost of being a member of such. And that they should be offered student discounts or it should be for free so that they may indulge in their favorite sports away from school. However, such points are again on an individual level and are not expanded to include other viewpoints giving a very narrow and personal view of the problem.

Another viewpoint towards physical education is that of the functionalist approach to societal structure. This structure firmly believes that while the critical theory’s viewpoint is not wrong it only serves to show how the societal system is meant to be flawed.

The functionalist structure maintains that in order for society to keep its foundations intact, it requires certain resources. The benefits of physical education in school is an integral part of creating an environment where students can find themselves, prosper and become integral members of society. Their growth into functional members of society is essential to the continued function of society and their societal role is dependent upon their growth in the field of physical education (Laker 33-37).

One other Micro issue related to this topic is the perception or notion of risk within young people themselves. One thing that should be noted about this concept is that though young people may indulge in risky behavior with negative results they themselves don’t see their actions as having an inherent risk; rather these notions are pre defined by experts who take attention away from the perspective of young people and bring it upon themselves.

In essence this takes attention away from their own choices regarding their health when considering the state of their everyday lives. Thus this creates a situation where their individual voices are drowned out by expert opinions which do not allow them to take their own individuality into consideration. According to psychologists the exertion of control and individuality by young people is a direct result of low self esteem issues on the part of the individual.

Surveys which were conducted on young people from various ethnicities found that instead of connecting the aspect of health with any form of risk, they instead connected it with happiness. They found that social connections and a sense of personal achievement were important in individuals in order for them to feel fulfilled. When asked why they embarked upon risky behavior, they replied that they experienced several pressures in their everyday lives which often made them feel unwell.

They cited the need to succeed in their lives as one example of the pressure they faced and the inherent distrust in their parents to solve their problems. They also found that a lack of self worth and feeling undervalued compounded the problems they faced. The study also concluded that the only to ensure that health promotion reached young people was by the involvement of young people themselves (Spencer 15-28).

The notion of risk though mentioned in Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton in terms of children not being able to go to dance clubs due to the inherent dangers perceived by parents is included in this study. However, the questionnaire that they have produced does not acknowledge the feelings of awkwardness or non fulfillment among individuals who admit to not having participated in physical activities either at school or outside it.

Additionally, while both Green and Thurston and Rhea speak about the changing trends in youth culture that require the involvement of our youth in the decisions of how best to get young people to participate in physical programs. Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton have completely disregarded this notion or rather have refused to even consider the notion that young people can have an instrumental say in forming their own health policies. While Green and Thurston say that the involvement of young people is essential to health promotion and Rhea agrees that the efforts and participation of young people in this area will be the main driving force for change.

In my opinion the research which is provided in Mulvihill, Rivers and Aggleton research study provides an interesting look into the perspectives of young students and parents alike regarding the current state of physical education in England today. However, the problematic way in which the study has been conducted does not lend itself to scientific accuracy. It may not be useful in researching the causes of decreased participation among young people or discerning the general apathy among parents and teachers towards physical education.

It does not provide any concrete solutions to the problems faced by students today, nor does it consider the viewpoints of the school or physical education teachers in its survey. Its main viewpoint is fundamentally flawed and excludes the lower socio economic portion of the population they are studying, though it does give them the opportunity to give their viewpoints. In the end however, the viewpoints which are provided by the students do serve to fulfill the purpose for which it was originally intended.

It was created to provide a voice for young people in the policy making decisions towards health and its aspects in secondary schools. In that regards it does succeed in providing ideas towards solutions towards these problems and creating more avenues for young people to pursue their required physical education. In my opinion the study would be better served if the authors would have employed a more structured line of questioning and also requested the participation of various secondary schools in the areas they were researching as this would have brought a bigger sampling and much need validity to the study.

Works Cited

Green, Ken and Miranda Thurston. “Physical Education and Health Promotion: A Qualitative study of teacher’s perceptions.” Health Education Volume 102 Number 3 (2002): 113-123.

Laker, Anthony. Beyond the boundaries of physical education p.33-37. Florida: Routledge, 2000.

Mulvihill, Caroline, Kim Rivers and Peter Aggleton. “Views of Young People towards physical activity: Determinants and barriers to involvement.” Health Education Volume 100 Number 5 (2000): 190-99.

Rhea, Deborah J. “The physical education deficit in the high schools.” The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (2009): Editorial.

Spencer, Grace E. “Young People’s Perspective on health-related risks.” Educate Vol 8 No. 1 (2008): 15-28.

The Information Centre. “National Health Service.” Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England, 2008. Web.

World Health Organization. World Health Organization. 2009. Web.

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