UNESCO calls for investment in quality physical education to support COVID-19 recovery

COVID-19 has spotlighted the value of good health and resilience (physical, mental, social and economic). Almost a quarter of the world’s population have an underlying health condition which increases their vulnerability to the virus. Mental health issues have increased exponentially during the pandemic, particularly amongst youth. Physical inactivity can now be considered as a parallel pandemic, contributing to 5 million premature deaths annually.

Contrary to traditional physical education programmes which take a “one size fits all” approach, quality physical education is grounded in the equality of opportunity for all students to access a well-balanced and inclusive curriculum. Participation in quality physical education programmes improves physical health, decreases chronic mental health conditions and builds socio-emotional resilience. It also provides a high impact/low cost gateway to lifelong participation in physical activity across the lifespan.

It is for these reasons, quality physical education represents a major component in UNESCO’s new COVID-19 recovery flagship “Fit for Life” which has been designed to respond to the immediate physical and mental health effects of the current health pandemic.

In this context, UNESCO with the financial support of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched three new action-oriented publications on Quality Physical Education (QPE):

Building on the success of the Quality Physical Education Policy Project, the evidence-based publications have been developed by UNESCO to support Member States to accelerate COVID-19 recovery efforts and build a “new normal” which is founded on inclusion and resilience. QPE is framed as a low cost/high impact investment and values pathway with manifold positive physical, mental, developmental and educational outcomes.

Quality Physical Education is the basis for healthier, happier and more productive lives, and everything starts at school. It has the potential to accelerate COVID recovery efforts and help engineer a “new normal”. We need to improve the teaching of physical education, to nurture talent, but also to instill the values that are conveyed by sports. Team work, merit, positive spirit!
Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO

The publications call all actors in the sport, education, health and youth ecosystems to invest, implement, and advocate for quality physical education policy and programmes.

The interactive toolkit is designed particularly to support and engage young people and youth organizations to advocate for and effectively contribute to the development of quality physical education policy. It offers tried and tested techniques to inspire impact-oriented advocacy strategies and practical checklists to navigate physical education policy development processes.

One of the most remarkable and significant global initiatives in physical education of the last century
Independent evaluators from the Institute for Sport and Development in South Africa

The evidence-based policy brief presents the case for investment in QPE. Its content draws directly on findings from in-country interventions which demonstrate the value of inter-sectoral partnerships in QPE policy development. It also contains a series of practical recommendations for public and private stakeholders in the sport-education ecosystems, alongside resources to support the implementation of recommendations.

Finally, the analysis of process, content and impact is a technical document presenting an extensive analysis of the results of the policy revision processes in 4 country-contexts (Fiji, Mexico, South Africa and Zambia) according to the project’s theory of change model. It comprises a detailed breakdown of the policy pilot’s process, content and impact.

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