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«Reasons for the Selection or Nonselection of Physical Education Studies by Year 12 Girls Jennifer Browne Edith Cowan University In Western Australia ...»

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Reasons for the Selection or Nonselection

of Physical Education Studies by Year 12 Girls

Jennifer Browne

Edith Cowan University

In Western Australia from 1984 to 1988, enrollment in Physical Education

Studies by Year 12 girls decreased from 44% to 37%. The present study

wanted to ascertain reasons why girls were disposed or not disposed toward

selecting this subject. A questionnaire was administered to 103 girls taking

Physical Education Studies and 103 girls not taking it in eight govemment secondary schools. Analyses revealed that girls taking Physical Education Studies liked physical activity, thought physical education classes were fun, appreciated the break from the classroom, felt it helped to keep them fit, enjoyed learning new skills, liked the sports offered, and perceived themselves as being good at physical education. The most important reasons given by girls for not selecting Physical Education Studies were that other subjects were more important to their career plans, that they could not fit it into their timetable, that they obtained enough exercise out of school, and that there was too much competitive activity.

Prior to 1984,physical education at the upper secondary level in government schools in Western Australia was compulsory and nonassessable. It was generally taught in single-sex classes by a teacher of the same sex, and consisted of physical activities appropriate to the needs and interests of the groups. Physical Education Studies, introduced in 1984, was an optional course conducted in coeducational groups and taught by female or male teachers. The course was assessable and consisted of both theory and practical activities largely chosen by the teacher.

During the 4 years from 1984to 1988, changes in enrollment patterns emerged.

First, Physical Education Studies was the fastest growing and most commonly selected non-Tertiary Entrance Examination (TEE) course, yet fewer girls than boys selected it in both Years 11 and 12. Second, the percentage enrollment of girls in Physical Education Studies declined in Years 11 and 12 over the 4-year period (Secondary Education Authority Statistics, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989).

These trends need to be considered in light of changes in education in Western Australia, which was affected by two major ministerial reports, known as the Beazley Report (1984) and the McGaw Report (1984). Each had considerable impact on the provision of education in Western Australia, particularly at the secondary level.

Jennifer Browne is with the Department of Physical and Health Education, Mount Lawley Campus, Edith Cowan Uni


McGaw's main recommendation was to reduce the number of TEE courses required for entrance to tertiary institutions.

Secondary Education Authority, the body responsible for the certification and examination of secondary school courses in Western Australia, undertook research in 1986 to determine the initial effects of the changes implemented as a result of the recommendations of these reports. The Curriculum and Research Unit compared the pattern of subject choice in 1984 with that of 1985 and concluded that "without doubt, there has been for the whole Year 11 cohort a movement away from the six tertiary entrance subjects towards various combinations of tertiary entrance subjects and nontertiary entrance subjects" (Secondary Education Authority, 1986, p. 33). The majority of students (86%) selected a 5:1, 4:2, or 3:3 combination of TEE and other accredited subjects, and the percentage of students studying six TEE subjects decreased from 68% in 1984 to 26% in 1985. The report found that the largest increase in student enrollment was in Physical Education Studies-from 2.4% of the cohort in 1984 to 13.4% in 1985.

Physical Education Studies, a combined practical and theoretical course, progressively attracted higher enrollments. The number of students completing the course in Years 11 and 12 increased from 1,789 in 1985 to 3,164 in 1988, and from 114 in 1985 to 2,281 in 1988, respectively. The course attracted 12.3% of the total enrolled students in Year 11 in 1985, 17.1% in 1988; and 0.9% of the total enrolled students in Year 12 in 1985, 12.8% in 1988. However, as the numbers increased, the percentage enrollments by sex did not parallel one another. Boys' enrollments increased from 61.6% to 67.0% in Year 11 and from 56.1% to 62.7% in Year 12 between 1985 and 1988. Over the same period, girls' enrollments decreased from 38.4% to 33.0% in Year 11 and from 43.9% to 37.3% in Year 12 (see Table 1).

Why were girls not selecting Physical Education Studies as frequently as boys? What were the reasons underlying girls' choice patterns when it came to the selection of Physical Education Studies? These questions need to be examined in the context of the educational and sporting scenes in Western Australia at the time. Since 1977, more females than males have completed 12 years of schooling.

However, subject choice in upper secondary schooling has been gender-based.

Twice as many boys as girls have completed courses in the physical sciences and mathematics, but girls have outnumbered boys by similar ratios in English literature, French, German, history, and human biology. One possible reason for the decreasing proportion of girls selecting Physical Education Studies might be that with coeducational classes being the norm, there may have been a perception that it was becoming "gendered." That is, because from its introduction more boys than girls had enrolled, it was being perceived as a boys' subject; hence, girls, with their stereotypical course selection, were avoiding it.

Further, although sport in Western Australia is an important leisure activity for both females and males, male participation continues to be higher than female participation. The climate, the population being largely concentrated in the southwest of the state, and the affluent life-style have been factors in the evolution of a strong sporting base. Perhaps the percentage of girls selecting Physical Education Studies is merely a reflection of the percentage of females participating in sport in the wider community.


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Note. Adapted from Secondary EducationAuthority Statistics (1985,1986,1987,1988,1989).

State totals are in parentheses.

Girls' Participation in Physical Education The decline in the number of girls participating in physical activity as they reach adolescence has been documented by many writers (Baker, Campbell, Paterson, & Wideman, 1982; Butcher, 1976, 1980; Coles, 1979; Dyer, 1986; Earl & Stennett, 1983; Hall & Richardson, 1982; Kudeka, 1986; Raithel, 1987). The decrease in participation coincides with girls' entry into the f i t years of secondary school and continues throughout the secondary program.

Butcher (1976) investigated the differences between girls who elected physical education and girls who did not in the upper grades of two Canadian secondary schools and concluded that the major difference was that girls not enrolled did not like highly competitive activities. The main reasons expressed for electing physical education were enjoyment (34.3%) and fitness, health, and well-being (28.9%); those given for not electing physical education were preferences for other courses (32.1%) and a dislike of aspects of physical education (28.1%).

A study conducted by Macintosh (cited in Hall & Richardson, 1982) in Ontario on student choice in Year 9 physical education found that 31% of the girls avoided sport, compared with 20% of the boys. By Grade 11,60% of the girls had dropped out of physical education, compared with 40% of the boys. However, the reasons for not taking physical education were essentially the same for both sexes: They


education, did not believe their skills would improve, and had received less encouragement from parents and friends to take physical education. These students perceived themselves as being less healthy and fit and, more often, overweight.

Attitudes toward coeducational physical education classes in a high school in San Diego, California, were reported by Mikkelson (1979). Results indicated that 76% of the girls preferred coeducational classes, compared with 52% of the boys.

Students suggested they would be more likely to select physical education if ability grouping was introduced, if they had more say in the sports offered, and if a greater variety of activities was available.

In 1980, Butcher used questionnaires to measure satisfaction with specific aspects of physical education programs in a Catholic school district in a Canadian city. Although 83% of the girls indicated they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their physical education program, there was a significant decline in satisfaction from Grade 6 to Grade 10. Enjoyment and fun was the most important positive factor identified by the girls (66%); health and fitness ranked second (10%). The factor least liked about the subject was the requirement to participate in certain specified activities (43%).

Baker et al. (1982) surveyed over 1,500 students from Grades 9 to 12 in schools in Ontario. The study was in response to a concern by teachers about declining enrollment in physical and health education since the subject became optional in 1972. A previous study had reported that in Grades 9 to 12, the percentage of boys choosing physical and health education had decreased by 24%, the percentage of girls by 37%. The main reasons given by the girls for selecting the course were liking sports (81%), fun (80%), and concern about fitness (75%). The major reasons given by girls for not selecting physical and health education were that other subjects were more important (64%) and that it was boring (17%).

A major survey conducted by Earl and Stennett (1983) in secondary schools in Ontario ascertained the importance of reasons for selection or nonselection of physical and health education. The reasons girls considered important were liking sports (99%), liking activity (97%), having fun in class (97%), learning new skills (97%), and keeping fit (94%). The major reasons given by girls for not selecting physical and health education were that other subjects were more important (88%), that they were unable to fit it into their timetable (79%), and that they disliked aspects of the program (62%).

Adolescence and female self-consciousness emerged as an issue in a Tasmanian study of girls who dropped out of physical education (Kudelka, 1986). Girls continually mentioned dissatisfaction with their appearance, selfconsciousness during physical education lessons, the belief that boys have a different attitude toward physical education and were better at it than girls, feelings that physical education teachers did not always understand them, and a dislike of certain activities in physical education. Kudelka reported that

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Similar conclusions were reported by Raithel (1987), who identified the major barriers to participation in physical activity for girls as being conflicts with sex role identity, perceived incompetence in sports, early or late physical maturation, and social pressures found in coeducational competition. Additional factors facing girls as they reach puberty were embarrassment because of bodily changes, peer pressure to be feminine, activities that were either too challenging or not challenging enough, and a lack of skills needed to enjoy adult sports.

Gender differences in competitive achievement orientation and sport participation in university and high school students of both sexes were reported by Gill (1988). Results revealed gender differences in achievement orientation toward sport, with males consistently scoring higher than females on competitiveness and win orientation toward sport. Females and males were equally achievement-oriented, but males were more oriented toward achievement in competitive, interpersonal situations, and sport seemed to exaggerate this gender difference.

This suggested that females were just as likely as males to value achievement and to enjoy sport, but they were less interested in competitive, win-oriented activities.

Although the literature reports heavily on research completed in North America, particularly Canada, the reasons outlined for nonparticipation in physical education courses could provide insight into issues underlying the dropout rate of girls in Australia. The Canadian research was considered relevant because physical education changed from a compulsory to an optional subject in the early 1970s, with a consequent decline in enrollment. The same situation occurred in Western Australia from 1984, resulting in a decrease in the percentage of girls enrolling in Physical Education Studies in the latter half of the 1980s.

Methodology The research utilized a questionnaire survey that focused upon the importance of reasons given by girls for selecting or not selecting Physical Education Studies. The survey population was defined as Year 12 girls in metropolitan government secondary schools in Western Australia that had over 30 students enrolled in Physical Education Studies. Such enrollment would provide approximately 12 girls in each school. Of the 26 schools identified, 8 were randomly selected. All girls taking Physical Education Studies in those schools (n=103) and the equivalent number of girls not taking it (n=103) were selected for the study.

Two complementary questionnaires utilizing 4-point Likert scales (very important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant, not at all important) were developed based on items used by Earl and Stennett (1983). The questionnaire given to girls enrolled in Physical Education Studies contained 6 of the original items, 9 modifications, and 3 additions; the questionnaire given to girls not enrolled in Physical Education Studies contained 12 of the original items, 10 modifications, and 5 additions. Because of these major amendments and the changed scale (from a 3-point to a 4-point Likert), reliability and validity were reestablished.

Reliability was calculated by test-retest, and coefficients of correlation ranged between.638 and.918. Content validity was substantiated by a logical analysis of the research literature and a classification of the factors disposing


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