Overall focus and contribution
In this article, we describe a new research project that was established in 2021 at the Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. The project rational is that education for sustainable development (EfSD) may offer a new point of departure, a re-orientation of physical education and health (PEH). However, a critical question is how sustainable development can be explored, understood, and enacted, and how changes of perspectives around learning objectives, teaching, and learning processes, as well as content, can incorporate educative aspects in PEH and PEH teacher education (PETE).
In the context of sustainable development, the overall aim of the project is to study pedagogical and didactic considerations that emerge as important to establish within the framework of PEH teaching and learning practice. The goal is to initiate and strengthen the integration of sustainable development, and, accordingly, to increase knowledge of pedagogical and didactical strategies and content that can deepen the conversation about sustainable development to make PEH more relevant and inclusive. We focus on PEH in compulsory and upper secondary school, as well as the PETE.
The global challenges that humanity face, including inequality and climate change, is the point of departure of the sustainable development agenda. Perhaps the most broad and ambitious action plan for sustainable development so far is the 2030 agenda that was introduced 2015 by the United Nation (United Nation, 2015). The 2030 agenda comprises 17 intertwined sustainable development goals (SDG) and 169 associated targets. Together, these SDGs and targets cover social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The 2030 agenda and its 17 intertwined SDGs (click image to enlarge).
To make responsible decisions in pursuit of a just society for present and future generations, and to realise the 2030 agenda, it has been acknowledged that people may need some critical sustainable development competences, such as systems thinking, strategic thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving (see e.g., Kioupi & Voulvoulis, 2019). Education has the potential to empower people with such sustainable development competences, and this kind of education has been termed EfSD (see e.g., Laurie et al., 2019).
In Sweden, as may also be the case in other countries, the curricula for compulsory school and upper secondary school emphasises that sustainable development is common to all subjects and the school as a collective. For example, in the Swedish Curriculum for the compulsory school, preschool class and school-age educare (2019) it is stated that (p. 8):
An environmental perspective provides opportunities not only to take responsibility for the environment in areas where they themselves can exercise direct influence, but also to form a personal position with respect to overarching and global environmental issues. Teaching should illuminate how the functions of society and our ways of living and working can best be adapted to create sustainable development.
Although not all subject syllabi explicitly address sustainable development, teachers of all subjects have an obligation to involve sustainable development as part of their teaching.
Sustainable development and physical education and health
In school, PEH have the potential to develop critical skills and knowledge important for physical activity, physical fitness, and health and well-being. Despite this, PEH has received critique since much focus has been on sport-related skills that may generate a narrow view on what it means to be competent in PEH (Nabaskues-Lasheras et al., 2020). In addition, PEH may involve a narrow, biomedical orientation towards health that focus on risk reduction rather than what promotes health and well-being (Mong & Standal, 2019).
Despite the above issues, PEH may not only have the potential to represent an important cornerstone to the holistic development of students but may also have distinct contributions to the sustainable development agenda.
Despite the above issues, PEH may not only have the potential to represent an important cornerstone to the holistic development of students but may also have distinct contributions to the sustainable development agenda. Some PEH unique subject characteristics, such as movement education and health, may also differ from other subjects, which further justifies exploring the specific contribution of PEH to the sustainable development agenda and there is indeed a growing interest in this area.
Perhaps most notably, Lohmann et al. (2021) and Baena-Morales et al. (2021; 2022) have suggested that PEH may already be working on some issues related to the sustainable development agenda, and that, theoretically, some pedagogical models can be used to address sustainable development-related issues in PEH. Ultimately, it has been suggested that PEH has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to SDGs, such as Good Health and Well-Being (#3), Gender Equality (#5), Reduced Inequalities (#10), and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (#16). Nonetheless, more research is needed to understand how sustainable development can be explored, understood, and enacted in PEH.
New research project
The new project is entitled Physical educatiOn, health, and SuStaInaBILITY, the acronym being POSSIBILITY. We are currently three members in the core research group: Professor Suzanne Lundvall, PhD candidate Petter Wiklander, and Associate Professor Andreas Fröberg. Together, we have long experience from teaching PEH and from teaching at PETE programs. We have also conducted research within the field of PEH.
The project rational is that EfSD may offer a new point of departure, a re-orientation of PEH but that a critical question is how sustainable development can be explored, understood, and enacted. In addition, how changes of perspectives around learning objectives, teaching, and learning processes, as well as content, can incorporate educative aspects in PEH and PETE.
Below is a summary of what has been done so far. You may also visit our project website at: https://www.gu.se/en/research/physical-education-health-and-environment-a-school-subject-for-sustainable-development.
What has been done so far
As a first step, we were interested in reviewing previous research that, in one way or another, had shed light on PEH in the context of the 2030 agenda and the SDGs. Therefore, we reviewed the previous scientific literature that had focus on the distinct role of PEH in the context of the 2030 agenda and the SDGs. In the paper, that was published in Sustainability, our broad research question was: what perspectives related to PEH in the context of the 2030 agenda and the SDGs have been discussed in the research literature? The five electronic databases Education Research Complete, ERIC, Education database, SportDiscus, and Scopus were systematically searched. We used search strings that previously had been developed to identify research that supports the SDGs. Papers were included if they focused on students from all educational levels, and discussed ideas related to the distinct role of PEH in the context of the 2030 agenda and any of the SDGs.
These steps were curricula revisions, a reorientation of learning perspectives, and a rethinking of perspectives on health and well-being.
The search resulted in approximately 4300 papers published between 2015 and 2021. Of these, only three unique papers met the inclusion criteria. These papers provided some suggestions on how PEH can contribute to the visions set out by the 2030 agenda, particularly the SDGs Good Health and Well-Being (#3), and Quality Education (#4), but also Gender Equality (#5), Decent Work and Economic Growth (#8), Reducing Inequality (#10), Responsible Consumption and Production (#12), Climate Action (#13), and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (#16).
|Reference: Fröberg, A., & Lundvall, S. (2021). The distinct role of physical education in the context of 2030 agenda and Sustainable Development Goals: An explorative review and suggestions for future work. Sustainability, 13(21), 11900. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132111900|
The overall conclusion was that few papers had discussed how PEH can contribute to the visions set out by the 2030 agenda. Therefore, as a second step, the review was followed by a position paper published in Sport, Education and Society. In this paper, we shed light on what it might mean to adopt educative aspects of sustainable development in the field of PEH. In doing so, we suggested three steps that could open a process that may deepen our conversations and strengthen our actions in relation to education for sustainable development. These steps were curricula revisions, a reorientation of learning perspectives, and a rethinking of perspectives on health and well-being.
|Reference: Lundvall, S., & Fröberg, A. (2022). From individual to lifelong environmental processes: reframing health in physical education with the sustainable development goals. Sport, Education and Society, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1080/13573322.2022.2062320|
In relation to the suggestion of rethinking of perspectives on health and well-being, we also conducted a scoping review to contribute to knowledge about what characterizes empirical research literature with holistic perspectives on health and discuss implications for teaching PEH (Wiklander, Fröberg, & Lundvall, under review). Four databases were systematically searched for papers published between 2002 and 2021. Out of more than 3000 papers, a total of 12 papers were included. Using a thematic analysis, two distinct themes were identified. The first theme was Teacher’s philosophies and didactic considerations that explored understandings and beliefs, and the implications, on PEH practice among teachers. The second theme was Alternative ways to teach where teachers engage in co-creating, enacting, and evaluating holistic health-related curricula. The review manifests that, although PEH teachers may hold narrow understandings of health, they are receptive to holistic perspectives and well-disposed to design and enact critically conscious and inclusive, student-centred teaching that promotes students’ sustainable well-being, given the appropriate support and opportunities for professional development. The scoping review is under review for publication in European Physical Education Review.
Moreover, in two other papers we focused on steering documents. In one of these papers, published in Sustainability, we explored how sustainable development perspectives were reflected in PETE course syllabi. In doing so, we more specifically analysed the approximately 500 learning outcomes the PEH didactical courses retrieved from 42 course syllabi. These course syllabi were from PETE programs at eight Swedish PETE institutions that prepare students to teach PEH in compulsory school grades 7–9, and upper secondary school. When analysing the learning outcomes, we only found eight that explicitly mentioned terms such as “sustainable” (in Swedish: hållbar), “sustainability” (hållbarhet), “sustainability perspectives” (hållbarhetsperspektiv), and “sustainable development” (hållbar utveckling). These learning outcomes were found in courses with focus on outdoor education, movement and health didactics, and work environment and ergonomics.
In the commentary materials, however, there were some explicit statements made in relation to outdoor life and nature, and ergonomics.
In our further qualitative thematical analysis, by following available recommendations and guidelines, we created eight themes of learning outcomes (see e.g., Braun & Clarke, 2019; Nowell et al., 2017). Examples of themes were Health-related areas and issues, Teaching, didactics, and professionalism, Sex and gender, and Movement activities. These themes were then linked to SDG-oriented learning objectives and competencies, as suggested in two previous educational resources. These were Education for the Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (Rieckmann et al., 2017), and the Curriculum framework for the Sustainable Development Goals from Commonwealth (Osman et al, 2017).
In total, we found that 37 SDG-oriented learning objectives and 31 SDG-oriented competencies could be linked to our themes of learning outcomes. These learning objectives and competencies represented the five SDGs Good Health and Well-Being (#3), Quality Education (#4), Gender Equality (#5), Reduced Inequalities (#10), and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (#16).
|Reference: Fröberg, A., & Lundvall, S. (2022). Sustainable Development Perspectives in Physical Education Teacher Education Course Syllabi: An Analysis of Learning Outcomes. Sustainability, 14(10), https://doi.org/10.3390/su14105955|
In the other paper, recently published in Curriculum Studies in Health and Physical Education, we used the same methods but focused on the Swedish PEH syllabi and the supporting commentary material for the compulsory school and the upper secondary school. These were located and downloaded from the Swedish National Agency for Education’s website. Here, we found no explicit statements related to sustainable development in the PEH syllabi for the compulsory school and the upper secondary school. In the commentary materials, however, there were some explicit statements made in relation to outdoor life and nature, and ergonomics. For example, in relation to outdoor life and activities, it is stated that (Swedish National Agency for Education, 2022: p. 7):
Staying in nature also contributes to seeing nature as a common resource to which a lifelong relationship can be established. Teaching in nature can thus provide a clear connection to sustainable development, something that is linked to the curriculum’s overall goals and to the right of public access [our translation].
In the qualitative thematical analysis, however, we found links between the themes we produced from the PEH syllabi and totally five SDGs. These were Good Health and Well-Being (#3), Gender Equality (#5), Reduced Inequalities (#10), Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (#16), and Partnerships for the Goals (#17). For example, the theme Plan, implement and adapt movements activities were created from descriptions about the ability to plan, implement and evaluate activities, and move without restriction across contexts. This we link to SDG-oriented learning objectives and competencies for the SDG Good Health and Well-Being (#3) that dealt with skills, such as the able to plan, implement, evaluate strategies that promote health and well-being.
|Reference: Fröberg, A., Viklander, P., & Lundvall, S. Sustainability-oriented learning in Physical education and Health (PEH)? A document analysis of the Swedish syllabi. Curriculum Studies in Health and Physical Education. https://doi:10.1080/25742981.2022.2112921|
In both papers, however, we found few explicit statements related to sustainable development. Therefore, the papers signal a possibility to work with the conceptualisation of sustainable development, and to address these in PETE course syllabi and the Swedish PEH syllabi.
The above section has summarised the initial phase of the research project. So far, we have focused on conducing overviews of previous research and analyses of steering documents. Below is an outline of what is planned to be done in the future.
What is planned to be done in the future
At present, we are collecting data to explore sustainable development competencies among PEH teachers in Sweden. The participants are certified PEH teachers, and an online questionnaire is used to collect data. A similar study will also be conducted among students at PETE programs in Sweden.
Another project that is currently running is that of PhD candidate Petter Wiklander. The PhD project is a practice-based, participatory action research study with upper secondary school PEH teachers with the aim to explore how sustainable health can be conceptualised. In addition, how PEH can contribute to strengthening students’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values to influence their own and others’ health in the future, with regard to the 2030 agenda and the learning compass from OECD (see e.g., Howell, 2019).
As mentioned above, issues related to the sustainability development agenda has received increased research interests in the field of PEH, and it should be mentioned that there are other research groups that currently explore issues related to sustainable development in the field of PEH and sport science.
We are also preparing a collaboration study to explore what PEH teacher educators at a Swedish PETE department perceive to be critical aspects on EfSD in PEH and PETE. The overall goal is to contribute to the field by exploring how a collaboration study, drawn on the principles of collaborative learning, can be used to initiate discussions about these issues. The participants will be PEH teacher educators that work to prepare future PEH teachers to teach students in compulsory school, and upper secondary schools. Collaborative learning will allow for these PEH teacher educators to mutually increase their knowledge and deepen their understanding related to EfSD, the 2030 agenda and its SDGs in the context of PEH and PETE.
We are confident that this project will contribute to the field by exploring critical aspects on sustainable development and EfSD in PEH and PETE through different studies, including practice-based ones, and collaborative learning projects. Together with overviews of previous research and analyses of steering documents, knowledge from these studies can develop theory and practice, including knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values among both students, PEH teachers, and PEH teacher educators, and make possible a re-orientation where quality PEH can contribute to the 2030 agenda, and be a driving force for movement, health, environment, and a social just society.
As mentioned above, issues related to the sustainability development agenda has received increased research interests in the field of PEH, and it should be mentioned that there are other research groups that currently explore issues related to sustainable development in the field of PEH and sport science. To the best of our knowledge, at least two Swedish research groups exist. The first research group is for the Movement, Health and Environment (in Swedish: Rörelse, hälsa och miljö) at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. Inter alia, they focus on active transport, such as walking and cycling, and environmental variables linked to these types of outdoor activities. The other research group focus on sports, outdoor life, and the environment. The research project is funded by MISTRA and involves researchers from Mid Sweden University, Malmö University, and Dalarna University. There are good opportunities for future cooperation, including knowledge development and sharing.
If you are interested in the topics as presented in this feature article, do not hesitate to contact us. E-mail addresses: Andreas Fröberg: email@example.com; Petter Wiklander: firstname.lastname@example.org; and Suzanne Lundvall: email@example.com.
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& Petter Wiklander 2022