What Are the Pros and Cons of Physical Education?

Physical education classes benefit students by building physical activity into their schedules and by encouraging healthier lifestyles, but they compete for time with core courses and other electives. Also, a Cornell University study shows that expanded PE programs provide only small gains in students’ overall physical activity.

Advocates of more physical education at school point out that students spend most of their waking hours at school, making it easier to add activity there than anywhere else. PE supporters also point to studies that suggest that increased activity benefits academic performance and attention spans and reduces stress, as well as increasing physical fitness and reducing the risk of chronic diseases related to excess weight. In addition, supporters believe that PE classes contribute to improved fine- and gross-motor skills, learning cooperation and teamwork, and improved self-confidence and self-esteem.

Critics point out that PE classes are sometimes ineffective because the students spend too much time on sports that require only brief periods of activity, such as softball and volleyball. They also raise concerns that students who are unfit or overweight may face risks of injury or bullying in PE classes. In addition, mandatory PE places extra time demands on students with heavy academic loads and those taking time-consuming electives, such as band and chorus.