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It’s Not Just Gym Anymore

Contents

I Introduction
II Report card on physical activity
III Health and physical education
IV How the curriculum was developed
V What’s in the curriculum?
VI The challenge now

--submitted by Chris Markham, Executive Director and C.E.O., (Ontario Physical and Health Education Association) Ophea

I Introduction

As an organization that has been supporting health and physical education (H&PE) in Ontario for 90 years, we at Ophea have never seen so much public awareness and dialogue about this issue as we have in the past weeks – unfortunately, all we have been talking about is sex.

II Report card on physical activity

As we were debating the merits of sexual education, Active Healthy Kids Canada released its Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth 2010. The results of the report are not particularly shocking. Only 14% of Ontario’s children and youth are getting enough physical activity for good health. The other 86% are falling behind primarily because they spend too much time in front of televisions, computers and other screens, beginning as early as 15 months of age. While they are sitting in front of screens, not only are they not moving, they are likely being inundated with images that contradict the “healthy messages” that schools, parents, and other community partners work so hard to instill. If we as a province do not address this issue, we will be faced not only with a health crisis, but an economic one as well: it is predicted that over 70% of government spending will be allocated towards healthcare within 12 years.

III Health and physical education

The recent debate about sex education has raised an interesting, and ultimately more important, question. Who is responsible for the health of children and youth? The answer is “everyone.” And that is one of the fundamental principals upon which Ontario’s revised H&PE curriculum is based: that health and physical education programs are most effective when students’ learning is supported by school staff, families and communities.

The debate over the past weeks has helped to create increased public awareness regarding what H&PE is all about. The revised H&PE curriculum addresses a range of topics including physical activity, safety and injury prevention, healthy eating, substance use, mental health, and yes - human development and sexual health, and is the only curriculum that integrates the learning of important living skills such as critical thinking, personal skills, and interpersonal skills. It is the result of a comprehensive two-year process that involved gathering of evidence and best practices from around the world and consultations with thousands of experts, parents (and experts who are parents!) and for the first time that we are aware of, students themselves.

IV How the curriculum was developed

The revised curriculum was developed by the Ministry of Education with input from many education and health promotion organizations, including Ophea. It was put together through an extensive review, consultation, writing and revision process which began in 2007 and was led by health, physical education and curriculum experts within the Ministry of Education. It was a collaborative effort that involved thousands of consultations with issue experts, parents, students, child and youth health organizations and health promotion organizations, as well as religious groups. Together, these groups and individuals examined the 1998 curriculum, preserving the best parts of it while making recommendations for change.

The development of the revised H&PE curriculum was one of the most comprehensive and collaborative processes that Ophea has ever had the opportunity to be a part of. To be sure, many challenging and courageous conversations have taken place throughout the process, as organizations and individuals with differing points of view from across the province had the opportunity to have their say. But throughout all of the debate and discussion, it was clear that everyone had a common goal – to improve the health and learning of our children and youth. The result is an innovative, modern and proactive approach to give students the knowledge and skills to be healthy today and in the future.

It is not just “gym” anymore. It is one of the most significant health promotion initiatives this province has ever seen, and presents a practical opportunity to impact the health and learning of the 2.1 million children that attend Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

V What’s in the curriculum?

The revised H&PE curriculum is made up of three distinct but related strands: Healthy Living, Active Living, and Movement Competence: Skills, Concepts and Strategies. A further set of expectations related to Living Skills – personal, interpersonal and critical and creative thinking skills – are included at the beginning of each grade and are taught and evaluated in conjunction with the learning in the three strands.

The approach to Healthy Living has changed in the revised curriculum, and focuses on helping students to use their understanding of health concepts to make healthy choices and to understand the connection between their personal health and well-being and that of others and of the world around them. Specific updates have also been made to the content in order to reflect current health topics (e.g., healthy eating, personal safety and injury prevention, substance use, addictions and related behaviours and human development and sexual health. Mental health and emotional well-being is addressed across all topic areas.)

The Movement Competence strand (formerly called the Fundamental Movement Skills strand) focuses on developing movement skills, concepts and strategies that prepare students to participate in lifelong physical activity. And the Active Living strand (formerly called the Active Participation strand) focuses on teaching students about the joy of physical activity while developing personal fitness and responsibility for safe participation in physical activity. A strong emphasis is placed on teaching the Living Skills (i.e., personal skills, interpersonal skills, and critical and creative processes) across all strands.

The curriculum as a whole is based on more of a continuum, helping students to build on the skills they’ve acquired as they move through the elementary grades and on to secondary education. To help achieve this continuum, topics have been shifted between grades and levels to improve developmental appropriateness and ensure that students have the opportunity to learn and practice skills before they are required to apply them.

Changes to the format and structure of the curriculum will make the program easier to implement for all teachers—both specialists and generalists. They include more detailed examples; teacher prompts and sample student responses, expanded front matter and the addition of division overviews and appendices. The organization of expectations is by grade instead of by strand and specific expectations are clearly connected to overall expectations (upon which the students will be evaluated). With evaluation, the focus is on the quality instead of the frequency of a student’s demonstration of a skill.

VI The challenge now

And now, rather than trusting the results of a curriculum development process which followed the procedures for the development of any curriculum (procedures that were established by the neutral curriculum council established by Premier McGuinty to ensure that the Ontario curriculum was de-politicized), we have allowed this curriculum to be sensationalized. The province will be producing an Interim Health and Physical Education, Grades 1 – 8 (2010) curriculum policy document to support teachers in implementing the curriculum beginning in September 2010. This interim document will be composed of the majority of the revised H&PE 2010 document, but the Human Development and Sexual Health portion will be replaced with the Growth and Development portion from the 1998 document while the government consults with parents.

As we move forward to further consultation, we challenge Ontario to consider how our collective energies - those of government, schools, parents and provincial and community organizations - would be much better spent examining the type of support and collective responsibilities needed to implement this policy at the local level rather than dissecting every expectation it contains.

H&PE is not new for Ontario: we have had a solid curriculum in place for the past 10 years. Perhaps the reason it has gone unnoticed is that it is not being consistently implemented in communities across Ontario. More than ever, our schools need our encouragement and support to enhance their capacity to deliver a quality H&PE program so that all kids value, participate in, and make a lifelong commitment to healthy active living.