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With low enrollment rates in physical education (PE) classes among female students, there is a need for physical educators to have an in-depth understanding of this negative trend. Such low participation rates in PE classes are counterproductive in the fight against the growing prevalence of obesity worldwide. According to Sun (2013), physical educators play an important role in ensuring their students embrace lifelong physical activity, which is particularly crucial to help lessen the obesity epidemic witnessed across the globe. No country has managed to successfully reverse or at least reduce the obesity spread since it emerged during the 1980s as evident by the twofold or threefold increase in the statistics of obesity among children. Barbados has not been spared from the negative consequences of the issue, with 60% of adults, 27% of adolescents, and 35% of children aged 9-10 years being affected (UNESCO, 2013). This is an indicator that the existing approaches such as enhancing awareness, public health strategies, fiscal methods, and regulatory measures have not been effective. School-based interventions have not been given considerable attention although the school environment has a pivotal influence on the development of children. PE classes provide a useful platform for encouraging young people to acquire the skills, attitudes and knowledge for them to be physically active and live healthy lifestyles. It is thus surprising that the enrollment in PE classes is declining, especially among female students and is the matter of concern.

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PE provides students with an opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills regarding physical activity in general, which is not the case with other types of physical activities found in the school environment such as sports. Additionally, PE enables students to engage in a moderate to vigorous intensity activity safely because of the supervised and structured instructional settings. The significance of PE in the cognitive, social, and physical development of children has long been acknowledged. As a result, various governments have developed initiatives, policies and programs to help increase the level of physical activity in schools and enhance the quantity as well as the quality of PE classes offered in schools. The importance of PE in promoting lifelong health and wellbeing is well documented in the literature. PE has also been established to increase the level of physical activity for many years since childhood and to the later stages in life. The documented benefits of PE include improved health outcomes, social, cognitive and emotional benefits, as well as positive academic achievements.

The aspects of an effective PE program have been described in numerous literary publications. Chatterjee (2013) described an effective PE program as that which makes use of individualized teaching to encourage all students to not only participate but also enjoy the experience. Kirby, Levin and Inchley (2012) outlined an effective PE program based on the level of physical activity performed during the lessons. In this respect, Kirby et al. (2012) reported that the bulk of PE classes in Western countries fail to offer daily PE, and found that children are not participating in beneficial physical activity sessions of 18 minutes during each lesson, which could at least partially satisfy the requirement of 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on a daily basis. Another essential aspect of an effective PE curriculum is related to the development of important motor skills necessary to engage in various forms of physical activities. These motor skills include manipulative patterns like catching, striking, receiving, and throwing objects; and body management skills including balancing, rolling, and transferring the weight of the body. Huang and Humphreys (2012) further reported that the majority of PE programs are not providing students with an opportunity to develop the aforesaid crucial capacities.

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Even with the vast recommendations in the literature concerning the attributes and requirements of effective PE programs, the enrollment rates are relatively low, particularly among female students, who have a higher risk of not meeting the recommended levels of physical fitness. A number of barriers that hinder female students from participating in PE courses have been identified in the literature. They include the competitive attribute of PE classes, issues with self-confidence, the low perceive value of PE classes, limited opportunities for participating in PE, the grading scheme used in PE courses that places emphasis on actual skills resulting in the fear of getting low grades among girls, the use of co-ed PE classes, lack of parental and peer support, and the fact that the preferences of female students are not taken into account when designing the curriculum of PE classes. The other obstacles that restrain female students from enrolling and participating in PE include body issues and prejudices and attitudes concerning sexuality.

Despite the important role played by PE in ensuring the wellbeing and health of students, female students still report high avoidance rates. In the literature, numerous recommendations have been given to help deal with the problem, including ensuring that PE programs cater for the specific needs of female students, providing them with more options in terms of physical activities that they would deem enjoyable; giving female students a constructive feedback, and ensuring they have privacy in PE facilities. Thus, there is the need to validate these proposed recommendations, especially in other cultural contexts besides the Western setting in which the bulk of these studies and recommendations was developed. This will help in ascertaining the applicability of the in popularizing female participation in PE.

Nature of the Study

The proposed research will utilize the mixed method that involves integrating both quantitative and qualitative approaches to investigate the effectiveness of a developed program intervention in enhancing the enrollment and participation of Barbadian female students in PE. The approach will facilitate the triangulation of qualitative findings as well as the replication and generalization of the research in other schools in Barbadian context. The qualitative component of the proposed study will explore the current role of physical educators and teachers concerning the strategies they have adopted to encourage female students to enroll and participate in PE. Also, interviews will be administered to female students to identify their choices and preferences that could stimulate them to be included in the program. The effectiveness of the program will be investigated using the quantitative study. The developed course of action will be based on a number of recommendations highlighted in the literature, including the segregation of the PE classes in terms of gender, using marking schemes that focus on participation rather than competitive grading of students, involving female students in decisions concerning the structure of the PE program, and designing the PE classes in accordance to their identified needs. The outcomes of the program will be evaluated quantitatively with regard to its impact on the attitudes of the female students towards the PE courses, and changes in participation. A pretest posttest approach will be used to determine whether any significant changes in the variables were evident before and after the implementation of the program. The themes to be explored in the qualitative part of the study include the nature of PE marking schemes utilized at the school, the degree to which students are involved in the decisions regarding the development of PE classes, the qualifications of physical educators, the challenges that they face, the level of parental support the students receive, and the perceptions of students towards the PE classes.

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Significance of the Study

According to Sun (2013), physical educators play a crucial role in promoting lifelong physical activity among students. Moreover, they are ideally positioned to mold positive attitudes towards physical activity among students. Despite the important part played by PE and its resultant benefits, female students still have low enrollment rates. Numerous recommendations highlighted in the literature stress that physical educators and schools as a whole can and should take appropriate action to encourage female students to enroll and participate in PE. This research seeks to develop and assess a program that Barbadian schools can adopt to stimulate female students’ desire to take part in a PE course. The implications of the findings of this investigation might be applied in high schools of Barbados and other educational and social contexts as well; however, the specific venue of the case study selected – Frederick Smith Secondary School – means that the findings will be more applicable to high schools sharing similar characteristics.

It is also vastly recommended by the numerous literary works to adhere to the proposed measures to help encourage female students to enroll and participate in PE classes. Such recommendations include ensuring that PE programs cater for the specific needs of female students, providing female students with more options in terms of physical activities that they would deem enjoyable giving female students a relevant feedback, and guaranteeing female students have enough privacy in PE facilities among others. However, these actions are yet to be tried in the context of Barbados as being borrowed from a different sociocultural setting, it is not clear whether they will work in this country as well. Therefore, the findings of this research will inform physical educators, parents, and school administrators regarding the strategies that they can adopt to increase the participation of female students in PE.

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Definition of Key Terms

Co-ed classes. In PE, Co-ed classes are characterized by mixing both boys and girls, which is contrasted with single sex classes typified by the segregation of boys and girls.

Focus courses. Focus courses refer to customizing PE classes based on the preferences and needs of students. They require involving students in designing the PE curriculum by choosing the desired type of physical activity.

PE Program. A PE program, also known as a PE course, refers to a standard course developed for secondary and primary schools, with an emphasis on activities such as anaerobic exercises, aerobics, flexibility training, and competitive games.

Barbados. Barbados is a sovereign British Commonwealth island country situated in the Eastern Caribbean.

Parental Support. Parental support represents the degree to which a parent is involved in schooling and the personal life of his/her child. Parental support is a social phenomenon in the sense that a parent tries to nurture a positive social experience for his/her child through raising the awareness of the value of activities that a child participates in.

Body Image. Body image refers to the mental image that person has regarding his/her physical appearance. It can be positive or negative. A negative body image is characterized by being uncomfortable with one’s body and believing that one’s body shape is imperfect or unattractive. It is also characterized by anxiety regarding the perception of a person’s body by others. On the other hand, a positive body image is characterized by having a true view of one’s body shape, and embracing their natural characteristics as they are. It is also typified by understanding that one’s physical appearance is not important in determining confidence.

Sexuality Prejudice. Sexual prejudice is depicted as the negative attitudes hinged upon one’s sexual orientation. In the context of PE, sexual prejudice denotes the negative attitudes that people might have towards female students who participate in PE, especially in describing them as those which lack femininity.

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This mixed method research will evaluate the outcomes of a program designed to increase the enrolment and participation of girls in PE courses at the Frederick Smith Secondary School in Barbados. In particular, the study has the main goal of evaluating the applicability of existing recommendations in the context of this country. This methodology will be employed to enable the researcher to relate the findings of the qualitative research and generalize the quantitative findings to high school contexts. The qualitative research component will study a number of themes including the nature of PE marking schemes utilized at the school, the degree to which students are involved in the decisions regarding the development of PE classes, the qualifications of physical educators, the challenges that physical educators face, the effectiveness of parental support, and the perceptions of students towards the PE classes. The quantitative aspect of the research will assess the outcomes of implementing the program in terms of its influence on the attitudes of the female students towards the PE courses, and the changes in the existing tendency.