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Fostering Cultural Diversity in Health and Physical Education

The role of physical education in school curricula has come into the spotlight, given the pandemic-induced focus on public health. As schools across the country become more racially and culturally diverse, there is also a heightened call for multicultural physical education (PE) teachers.

Earning a Master of Science in Education in Health and Physical Education online from Northwest Missouri State University can be a career-boosting shift for anyone who is passionate about promoting good health and innovative physical learning. The MSEd program provides graduates with not only a multicultural understanding in the context of health and PE but also the ability to create adaptive PE curricula that accommodate students of various levels of ability.

Cultural Diversity in U.S. Schools

A 2019 report from The Washington Post shows a nationwide increase in racial diversity in public schools, meaning that educators have a stronger chance than ever of encountering students with a different cultural background than their own. Even in physical education, it’s important to understand and appreciate potential differences as opportunities to better connect with students.

In order to help serve an increasingly diversified population, faculty should emphasize diversity when recruiting candidates for PE jobs, according to a 2020 post from the physical education blog Shape America. The post notes that the profile of PE teachers in the United States has historically been “white, middle class, with strong sport and physical activity influences” and calls changing that norm a “worthy endeavor.”

Multiculturalism in Physical Education

Cultural differences might not be as apparent in physical education as they are in language arts or social studies, but they do exist.

For instance, different sports are more popular among different cultures, like soccer in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries as opposed to its popularity in the U.S. When teachers integrate activities that represent the diverse cultural preferences of a class, the students may benefit, but it’s equally important to recognize social and cultural factors that impact inclusion and access.

Physical contact, social interaction, language, diet and clothing restrictions are a few common considerations with varying cultural norms. In the health and physical education environment, these considerations often require the teacher to make adjustments.

An article from the International Journal of Education (IJE) titled “Multicultural Education in the US: Current Issues and Suggestions for Practical Implementations” outlines a number of ways to connect to and accommodate students of all cultures.

One of those methods is content integration, which is the extent to which educators “reflect students’ different cultures in curriculum materials when teaching diverse students.” In the context of physical education, this could mean including games and activities that are familiar to different cultural groups in a curriculum.

The article also notes that sports and other physical activities can be effective for building social culture and solidarity among students. Such activities are natural settings for students and staff members of diverse backgrounds to come together and exemplify structures for an “engaging, diverse society.” Whether students are competing among themselves or against staff members, activities that bring together a variety of students can help “create an atmosphere of trust.”

Accessibility in Physical Education

Physical limitations add another layer of consideration for PE instructors, and ensuring that students with accessibility issues have a chance to engage in physical education is important. Backing this idea are two more tenets from the IJE article: prejudice reduction and equity pedagogy. Factoring in the uniqueness and inclusion of every student, regardless of ability level, helps improve student attitudes. By the same token, offering every student a chance to participate encourages the achievement of all students.

Courses in Northwest Missouri State University’s master’s program offer historical perspectives and the means to combat dehumanizing biases. Taking this approach leads to a better understanding of the issues facing diverse groups of students of varying ability levels. Graduates of Northwest’s program are prepared to analyze and accommodate students by differentiating instruction using modern research and therapeutic measures.

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University’s Master of Science in Education in Health and Physical Education online program.

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