Attitudes toward Physical Education: A Study of High School Students from Four Countries-Austria, Czech Republic, England, and USA
Stelzer, Jiri, Ernest, James M., Fenster, Mark J., Langford, George, College Student Journal
This study investigated the attitude toward physical education of 1107 high school students from four countries, Czech Republic, Austria, England, and the United States. Survey data were gathered and measured using the Adams Scale survey instrument (Adams, 1963). While the data revealed individual differences, the overall sample indicated a decidedly positive attitude toward physical education. Students from the Czech Republic had significantly higher attitude scores than both U.S. and English respondents (p < .001), and males showed a more favorable attitude toward physical education than females (p < .001). Several notable differences were also found when the combined effect of gender and country of origin was measured.
The harmful consequences of the sedentary lifestyle adopted by a rapidly increasing segment of our population are apparent to even the casual observer. As Thompson (1998) made patently clear:
Humans are designed and constructed for one thing--movement. Yet our society does everything it can to prevent movement. Our children have access to every "labor-saving" device that exists. They are not being saved at all, however, but rather being exposed to potential overweight, illness, and physiological deterioration (Thompson, 1998, p. 69-70).
In 1987, Siedentop cautioned that high school physical education was an endangered species; a subject matter that might gradually become extinct in secondary curricula. He argued that an increasing lack of expectations for significant outcomes in high school physical education and, even more alarming, concern that students have stopped caring about physical education would bring about its demise. Physical educators have a duty to alter the expectations of high school students, but the best curricula and most heroic expectations will be ineffective if negative attitudes toward the course lead students to ignore its value. Attitude, then, is the agent that can change perceptions and the catalyst that can make physical education a positive educational experience. Although some of the researchers questioned the correlation between attitudes and actual behavior (LaPiere, 1934; Wicker, 1971) most researchers suggested that attitude and the individual's underlying belief system are considered the best indicators of the decisions people will make throughout their lives (Bandura, 1986; Dewey, 1933; and Pajares, 1992).
According to Nunnally (1978), "attitude" refers to a state of mind or feelings about particular social or physical objects such as significant people, social institutions, or physical activity. Identifying attitude as an important variable in the role and perceived importance of physical education dates to Alden's (1932) research into the attitudes of female university students and various aspects of their physical experiences. Later research efforts in the 1950's and 1960's determined that students generally had positive attitudes toward physical education (Broer, Fox, & Way, 1955; Brumback & Cross, 1965; Kappes, 1954).
More recently, Greenockle, Lee, and Lomax (1991) identified student attitudes at the middle school level as being strongly influenced by their peers and less positive than those of past students. Eighth grade students (13-14 years of age) were seen to be at the crucial incipient stage of dissatisfaction with physical education programs. The researchers catalogued a variety of negative student comments evidencing this growing dissatisfaction such as the "discomforts of exercise," "lack of choice of sports," the inconvenience of clothing changes, "getting sweaty," "messing up make-up," and getting "messed-up hair." Other research efforts suggest that as middle-school students matriculate to high school, these attitudes tend to become more negative and participation in physical activity declines. For example, Tannehill and Zakrajsek (1993) investigated middle school and high school students' attitudes toward physical education and found that while students imply that physical education was important to their overall education, they participated in competitive sports less frequently in high school than in middle school.
Other researchers have explored the relationship between attitude toward physical education and participation in physical activity as well. Macintosh and Albinson (1982) compared the attitudes of two groups of eighth grade students (N=670); those opting out of secondary school physical education and those electing to take it. Students who chose not to take part in physical education reported less positive attitudes toward physical activity and physical education and were less pleased with the aspects of the program than students electing to participate.
The relationship between attitude toward physical education and fitness level was also investigated by Abu-Saley (1989). He surveyed male college students from two Saudi Arabian universities and found a positive correlation between attitude and scores on the Health-Related Physical Test. Papaioannou (1994) obtained similar results from his study. He used the Learning and Performance Orientations in Physical Education Classes Questionnaire to explore the relationship between attitude toward physical activity and learning outcomes. He found that learning corresponded directly with positive attitude toward the lesson and the level of motivation for students of both sexes. This finding led Papaioannou to conclude that student interest in the lesson and the overall usefulness of the activity can be directly related to his or her attitude.
Existing research supports the notion of a strong correlation between increasingly negative attitudes toward physical education and the decline in physical activity and fitness levels that occurs as young people progress through the early stages of maturation. The deleterious long-term consequences may already be evident in the dramatic increase in obesity and other related health issues that have recently come to light. Adolescence is the time when personal limits are explored and lifetime attitudes and habits shaped. If positive attitudes toward physical education and physical activity are not promoted in the formative school years, they may never be adopted.
While existing research has established the link between attitude and the relative role of physical education, efforts to explore a wider range of attitudinal issues are absent from the literature. Studies exploring cross-cultural attitudes and relationships between gender, country of residence, and socio-economic status and physical education are non-existent. This study addresses most of that shortcoming. It investigates the important question of whether there are cross-cultural or gender differences in attitude toward physical education. The findings provide useful information for educators interesting in improving or reforming physical education programs or those involved with policy formulation.
The sample, which totaled 1107 student participants, was drawn from six high schools in four countries. Two institutions were located in the Czech Republic, two in England, and one each in Austria and the United States. While the sample was based on convenience, all selected high schools had two things in common; they were located within city limits, and each served students from its surrounding rural areas. Of the 1107 total participants, 487 were from the Czech Republic, 303 were from the United States, 217 from England, and 100 from Austria. Participants voluntarily took part in the study and each signed an informed consent agreement. Participants' ages ranged from 14 to 20 years of age with a mean and standard deviation of 16.8 and .93 years respectively. Over 90% of the participants were between 16 and 18 years of age, 42.1% (n = 466) were female, and 87.4% (n = 962) were Caucasian.
Participants' attitude toward physical education classes was measured using the Adams Scale (Set I) (Adams, 1963). This robust instrument (see Appendix B) was designed specifically for that purpose. It has demonstrated content validity and a Chronbach's alpha internal consistency coefficient of .89 (Adams, 1963). A reliability analysis was conducted on the scale for the current sample. This analysis yielded an alpha internal consistency coefficient of .82.
Scoring was done using a Likert Scale of seven responses ranging from 1, "very strongly agree," to 7 "very strongly disagree." Thus, response scores could range from a high of 112 to a low of 16. A score of 112 signifies the highest positive attitude toward physical education, a score of 16 the most negative attitude, and a mean score of 64 a neutral attitude.
Socio-economic status (SES) questions were added to the questionnaire to improve the significance of the data. The questions were based on Poole (1986) and Poole and Cooney (1985) suggestion that an adolescent's perception of physical education is formed by his or her physical, social, and cultural environment as well as the influence of the school system. These researchers argue that perceived physical-education opportunities might be constrained under certain conditions, such as low SES.
The aggregate data indicate an overall favorable attitude toward the physical education. Respondent scores ranged from 56 at the low end of the Adams Scale to the maximum of 112. The sample mean of 84.7 is comfortably above the indifference-point value of 64. Only 23 of the 1107 respondents (2.3%) had a score below 64 and eight recorded the maximum value.
The most striking dissimilarity found in the aggregate data is the attitude toward physical education in individual countries. A univariate ANOVA test using country of origin produced a statistically significant difference in mean scores, F (3, 1061) = 23.6, p < .001. This finding was confirmed by a partial eta of .06 (Cohen, 1988). The moderate eta value indicates a meaningful difference in attitudes in at least two countries.
Respondent data by country of origin are summarized in Appendix C. Student scores for the Czech Republic indicate the most favorable attitudes toward physical education (mean = 87.9) followed by Austrian students (mean = 84.9), U.S. students (mean = 82.3), and English students (mean = 81.1). The standard deviations were similar for all countries.
The differences in several mean scores are also statistically meaningful. Czech students had statistically significant higher attitude scores than both U.S. students and English students at the .001 level of significance, and Austrian students had significantly higher attitude scores than English students (p < .05). Despite the larger mean values for U.S. students relative to English students, the difference was not significant.
Meaningful differences in attitude were also found between genders. The data for these groups are summarized in Appendix D. As shown there, males averaged 86 on the Adams' scale and females 82. This four point difference is statistically significant (t = 5.4, df = 1067, p < .001) but the effect size (0.36) was small (Cohen, 1988).
The individual differences found in country of origin and gender scores prompted a two-factor ANOVA test to determine the interaction effect of gender and country. Specifically, it addressed the question: is the attitude toward physical education influenced by the combination of gender and country of origin? Test results revealed a statistically significant interaction effect with an F (1061, 3) = 9.1, p < .001. This result was confirmed by a modest eta squared value of .025.
The findings, as shown in Appendix C, also reveal several meaningful gender differences in individual countries. With the exception of the Czech Republic, male students had better attitudes toward physical education than females. A Bonferroni post hoc test indicated no significant difference between Czech males and females. Czech students, as a group, show significantly higher attitude scores than English male and female students (9 < .001), and U.S. females and Czech females also show significantly higher scores than the Austrian females (p < .001). Significant differences also exist between Austrian males and English and U.S. females (p < .001). U.S. male scores were significantly higher than those of both U.S. females and English males (p < .001). Finally, there is no statistically significant difference in scores between the English males and females.
This study addressed the issue of cross-cultural and gender differences in student attitude toward physical education. The aggregate data evidence a decidedly favorable view of physical education and this finding is consistent with the substantial body of existing research supporting this notion. Somewhat surprisingly, it is in contrast to the slight decline in student attitude relative to earlier studies indicated by Greenockle, Lee, & Lomax (1991) and Tannehill, & Zakrajsek (1993).
The significant differences in scores between Czech and Austrian students and those of the U.S. and English suggest there are important cultural differences in attitudes toward physical education. These differences may possibly be explained by such structural factors as course requirements, curriculum content, student-teacher ratios, and the level of importance attached to physical education by educators (Figley, 1985; Rice, 1988; Luke & Sinclair, 1991; Luke & Copeland, 1994). For example, in the Czech Republic physical education is required at least twice per week for a total of 90 minutes at every grade level. While the length of this contact period, which is limited by budget constraints, is less than prescribed standards, it still exceeds the typical experience in the United States. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2001), the percentage of schools that require physical education in each grade is around 50% in grades 1 through 5, 25% in grade 8, and only 5% in grade 12.
Differences in student-teacher ratios may also contribute to attitude differences between the two countries. In the Czech Republic, the maximum physical education class size in high schools is 24 students, but rarely does actual class size at any grade level exceed 20 students. By contrast, National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2001) data show that only 25.5% of states have a policy on the maximum allowable student-to-teacher ratio for physical education for senior high schools. For states that do, the average maximum allowable ratio is 34:1. Among those that do not cap class size such as Georgia, Texas, and Utah, high schools classes often have 40 or more students on one physical education teacher.
The importance attached to physical education by teachers and administrators in the two countries is also a likely determinant of how students perceive the subject. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2001) notes that only a few states and districts in the United States require performance skill, fitness, or written knowledge tests. Curriculum in the Czech Republic is, by comparison, more highly structured. Both performance and fitness pre-tests and post-tests are administered annually to students at all grade levels. This emphasis, the importance it conveys to students, students' skill and fitness levels, and their knowledge of health indicators are likely contributors to the more positive attitudes demonstrated by Czech students.
Structural issues such as coeducational classes and course content may also account for the difference in mean scores between Czech Republic and U.S. female respondents. While physical education classes in the Czech Republic are strictly separated by gender from middle school on, typical U.S. classes are co-educational. This factor and the type of activities usually offered in mixed classes could promote negative attitudes. For example, Lee, et al. (1996) found that males and females tend to value those activities perceived as appropriate for their gender. Many females were less likely to try hard and do well in sports such as basketball. These girls were more likely than boys to perceive dance, gymnastics, and other activities with a strong feminine sex--link as important for them to learn. Similarly, Luke and Sinclair (1991) found that both male and female students had an unfavorable attitude on coeducational classes. They ranked coeducation classes as the second major determinant of the negative attitudes that exist toward physical education.
Rice (1988) offered a number of recommendations for improving the physical education experience for students that are relevant to the issues addressed here. While some, such as lengthening class periods or increasing the quality of facilities, are either difficult to implement or not financially feasible, others are not only doable but are consistent with American social and cultural traits. For example, increased instructor participation in class activities (issues of equality and leading by example), offering a larger variety of activities and allowing students to choose which are taught (parallels to American consumerism), and discontinuing or modifying the practice of dressing out (self-consciousness) would favorably affect attitudes toward physical education. It is also worth noting that these recommendations are closely associated with many of the conflicts that females engage in during adolescents.
While recommendations such as these should help promote more positive attitudes toward physical education and, in the process, help young people adopt physical activity, fitness, and health awareness as lifelong habits, they are not the only answer. The solution lies in the complex relationship between culture, economic realities, and the role and practice of education and more research is required to uncover it. If we can change attitudes toward physical education, we may be one step closer to reducing the number of adults that risk the hazards of a sedentary lifestyle.
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Jiri Stelzer, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Valdosta State University; James M. Ernest, Department of Early Childhood and Reading Education, Valdosta State University; Mark J. Fenster, Department of Educational Leadership, Valdosta State University; George Langford, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Valdosta State University.
The authors are grateful to David Murrie, Eva Jenner, Jiri Omelka, and Ludek Sebek for their help with the data collections. In addition, the authors are thankful to the helpful comments provided by Art DeThomas.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jiri Stelzer, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Valdosta State University, 1500 North Petterson St. Valdosta, Georgia 31698-0095. E-mail: email@example.com
JIRI STELZER, JAMES M. ERNEST, MARK J. FENSTER, AND GEORGE LANGFORD
Valdosta State University…
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Publication information: Article title: Attitudes toward Physical Education: A Study of High School Students from Four Countries-Austria, Czech Republic, England, and USA. Contributors: Stelzer, Jiri - Author, Ernest, James M. - Author, Fenster, Mark J. - Author, Langford, George - Author. Journal title: College Student Journal. Volume: 38. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2004. Page number: 171+. © 2009 Project Innovation (Alabama). COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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