September 07, 2021

3 min read

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Student enjoyment of fitness testing is a key factor for engagement, according to research published in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. The study further found girls in secondary school enjoy these activities less than boys.

Bernadette Bree Ashley, PhD, and Masato Kawabata, PhD, of the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, surveyed 221 male and 328 female students between the ages of 11 and 19 at state-run schools in Singapore.

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Bernadette Bree Ashley

Ashley, a physical education teacher, conducted the study as part of her PhD thesis to address issues about physical fitness based on her teaching experience in Singapore. Kawabata supervised the thesis.

The students in the study all participated in Singapore’s national mandatory fitness test, the National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA), which includes sit-ups, push-ups and running in addition to other exercises.

The survey asked the students about the fitness testing in terms of motivation, enjoyment, feelings and understanding as well as about the role of their teachers. The students rated statements such as “I feel guilty when I don’t participate in NAPFA” and “I liked sit-ups” on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

Students overall had a positive view of fitness testing, but they were more likely to see its value if they took pleasure in the challenges and if teachers made the testing fun. Students in primary school had the most positive perceptions.

Middle-distance running (2.4 km and 1.6 km) was the least popular test item, especially among female secondary school students.

At the secondary level, female students also reported significantly lower intrinsic motivation, affective-enjoyment and affective-teacher scores compared with male students. Overall, more males than females were motivated by the fitness testing.

However, female pre-university students said they liked fitness testing because their physical education teachers organized interesting and enjoyable activities. These students also said their teachers were positive role models, suggesting that teachers had a positive influence on perceptions of fitness testing.

According to the researchers, student perceptions affected by cultural expectations and development stages were among the reasons driving these differences between male and female students.

Teachers need new strategies to help female students engage with the exercises that schools use to assess stamina and teach healthy lifestyles, the researchers said, noting that with the recent Olympics in Tokyo, their results are likely to fuel the debate about girls’ participation in exercise.

Since it has important health benefits and is convenient, the researchers continued, running in particular also needs new approaches to motivate students who are least interested.

The researchers noted that there are many ways that PE teachers can use the study’s findings to improve their own classes and testing, such as with the use of music and video.

“Many people listen to music while they are jogging. Why not use music in PE for physical fitness preparation to motivate students?” Kawabata told Healio. “Dr. Ashley has been keen to use music in her PE lessons to prepare for physical fitness testing.”

The researchers also suggested having students perform self-assessments and work in pairs, conducting all-female classes at the secondary and pre-university levels and basing activities more on real-life situations.

Masato Kawabata

“Potential strategies would be diverse. Good practitioners are creative and would be able to develop many effective strategies,” Kawabata said.

“However, crucial points to reduce the gaps between males and females would be to enhance positive experiences (eg, enjoyment) in physical fitness testing and values of physical fitness testing,” he continued.

These findings and strategies would be applicable in PE programs around the world, Kawabata said, adding that many studies consistently have found that females are less motivated for PE or physical fitness testing.

While fitness tests are designed to curb obesity and sedentary behavior, the researchers said, few studies have examined what motivates students during these tests. But some research has questioned their value and suggested that these tests can embarrass students and can be meaningless if students find them boring.

Future studies should explore how participation in fitness testing during school PE leads to the adoption of healthy, active lifestyles in adulthood, Kawabata said.

Based on these findings, Ashley has since conducted a study to examine the effect of music on middle-distance running among secondary students. She also aims to conduct intervention studies in school settings in the near future.