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Physical education in EU schools

The low levels of physical activity among children and adolescents in the European Union are alarming and have become a matter of great concern for policymakers, since physical inactivity is responsible for over 500 000 deaths per year and accounts for economic costs over €80 billion per year.

The educational environment plays a particularly important role: physical education is part of all central curriculum frameworks in the EU, and is compulsory in primary and secondary education. On average, just under 70 hours per year are dedicated to the subject. However, the time allocated to physical education is around only one third of that dedicated to the language of instruction and around half of that for mathematics. Generalists or specialists teach physical education at primary level, with specialists being the norm at secondary level. Specialist teachers at primary level usually have a bachelor's degree whereas, at secondary, half of EU countries require a master's degree.

Research shows that funding for physical education in schools is inadequate, which, in turn, is reflected in the often poor quality and lack of equipment at primary and secondary levels in respectively 26 % and 38 % of EU countries. In May 2014, the Council adopted a new three-year EU work plan for sport. For the first time, financial support for sport is now included in the form of a specific chapter in Erasmus+ – the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for the 2014-2020 period. The allocation amounts to around €265 million over the entire period. In 2015, the European Commission launched the European week of sport, aiming to raise awareness about the role and benefits of sport and physical activity.

At global level, education through sport is being encouraged by the International School Sport Federation (ISF) via the organisation of international competitions, such as the ISF World Schools Championship, the Gymnasiade, the Pan-American School Games, Euro Schools Football, and the Asian School Games.

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