All-round approach to pedagogical research on physical culture and sports issues



RAE Academician V.I. Zagvyazinskiy
Professor, Dr.Hab. I.V. Manzheley
Tyumen State University, Tyumen

Keywords: pupils’ health, national education and physical culture development trends, strategic objectives of health promotion education and physical culture.


It was back in 2010 that the National Education “Our New School” Initiative was launched with the objective to facilitate the transition to the new educational standards; provide support to gifted children; improve the education service quality and staff; and improve health standards of the pupils. It was then in 2012 that the new “Law on Education” was approved and put into effect after a large-scale national public discussion; and in 2014 the “Professional Standard of a Teacher” was actively discussed by the educational community and then approved.

Objective of the study was to analyze the current problems of the national education system in the context of the pupils' health promotion challenges and offer the ways to solve these problems.

Study results and discussion. The theoretical analysis we completed shows that the humanistic paradigm has been largely substituted by the market one, whilst the educational activity has been in many ways reduced to primary services, and the education system mission has been limited, as required by the directives of high-ranking officials, to catering for the current needs of the national economy.

The education sector authorities have covertly but persistently pursued the costs-saving policies to further cut down the already meagre costs claimed by the national education system that are now estimated at 3.5% of the Russian GDP compared to 12% in the US and 5-7% in the leading European countries. The education system reforms have been disappointedly non-efficient that may be largely due to the mismanagement in the sector with the important decisions being made on a deliberate basis with no research substantiations, calculations, forecasts nor pilot projects etc.

Rather than make decisions on well-grounded scientific approaches, the sector management has preferred to take multiple and inconsistent administrative reforms quite often governed by the principle “rob the belly to cover the back” i.e. to improve the humanitarian education at the expense of physical science education and vice versa; or by the principle of parroting the Western (or Eastern at times) education systems in the most primitive way when only a few elements were copied – like the testing system, for instance, or the credit system in the higher school etc.

The ill-famed decision on the education system being funded on a per-capita basis has resulted in about 17 thousand rural schools being liquidated despite the fact that these schools remained the last islands of culture in many villages – for the reason that the rural clubs, libraries and even medical stations had been liquidated before that, and the decision effectively sentenced these villages to death in fact. Declaring the strive to increase salaries of teachers, the reformers raised their workloads and at the same time made staff reductions firing the school tutors, psychologists and social educators. In addition, the first aid service was virtually liquidated in every educational establishment.

“Taking the idea of inclusive education – that should ideally be implemented very accurately, with every step and condition for it being assessed and established in a phased manner – as a basis for the reforms, they shut down the VII–VIII grade corrective establishments in many provinces, and the children experiencing physical disorders from these schools were moved to the regular classes. They opened monthly training courses to train the teachers for working in the inclusive format, but this system looks nice, good and humane only on the face of it. In actual practice the reform resulted in the education system impoverishment for the reason that the VII–VIII grade corrective schools provided jobs to most of the school pathologists and psychologists” [12].

Furthermore, it should be noted with regret that many of the education system services are being rendered on a payable basis and, hence, they can no more provide “social lifts” to children from the low-income families. This problem is further aggravated by the unsolved problems of labour education in schools and practical involvement of senior school children in productive labour.

The climax point of the bureaucratic administrative initiatives is the 10-years-long campaign to develop and implement the Centralized State Testing (CST) system that has totally disoriented the school education communities since the pupils are now drilled to select the right answers in the tests rather than develop their individual gifts and acquire broad-based knowledge. Furthermore, the bureaucratic initiative has proved to be highly exposed to corruption, and has always been subject to large-scale corruption schemes, fraud and scandals. It should be mentioned in this context that the whole procedure demonstrates the highest degree of mistrust to the teaching community, local education system managers and the school graduates that go to the tests feeling like prisoners entering a special regime zone, and this negative environment creates high stresses that manifest themselves in multiple nervous breakdowns of the pupils and their teachers.

Furthermore, the most striking and sad paradox of the testing procedure is that the CST system, despite the multiple improvement projects, still fails to provide high quality diagnoses to see whether or not the key education objectives are attained, including the thinking independence of the pupils, their personal values and priorities, individual gifts, preparedness to the challenges in career and many other things. As could be expected and should be regretfully confessed, the testing initiative “went for the wool and came home shorn” in fact [6].

It may be pertinent to add that the reforms being implemented in the Russian education system evoke quite controversial effects on the physical education of children and young people. The negative processes in the state education and upbringing system have triggered growth of deviant behavioural models and heavy losses for the spiritual values and positive ideals of the young generation. It is due to these negative trends that the top priority must be given to the projects to revitalize the Russian traditional spiritual values and anchors to foster the traditional patriotism, civil activity and ethics that should be integrated to a reasonable degree with the individual and corporate values and virtues of the post-industrial culture with its focus on the individual well-being, personal benefits and free competition; and only such a development model should help the Russian young generation successfully enter the global communities and be recognized and respected by them with no detriment to the national traditions.

It is basically the sport ideals viewed as an element of the national tradition and the “genetic memory of winners” that should encourage the Russian people to overcome the crisis of spirituality. There is nothing else but the feelings of patriotism, determination to win and pride in motherland that unite the Russian people in their spirits when they support the national teams competing in the international events. It is beyond doubt that any sport activity bears powerful potential resources to develop many good qualities in young people including communication skills, patriotism, determination, competitiveness and viability – based, among other things, on good behavioural models; with the models being promoted by the mass media organizations with an emphasis on the actual success stories of the national sport celebrities; best teamwork records and models demonstrated by the elite sport teams; due respect to the high standards of sport ethics and “fair play” rules; and broader opportunities for development of popular dynamic, emotional and health-promotion activities among children and young people [8].

It is the idea of the mass sports diversification in Russia that has provided a basis for implementation of quite a few large-scale projects in the national general school education system, including the “SPART” Sport and Humanistic Education Project [11]; “DROZD” Healthy and Educated Russian Children Project [9]; Olympic Education Project [10]; Presidential Competitions Project [5]; and a variety of the sport-intensive physical education projects of different versions under implementation in the primary school system [1, 2], including, for instance, the School Sport Equipment Project, School Sport Club Project etc.

It should be noted with delight that we now witness a shift in the public attitudes from the once-dominant health-protection idea to the modern health-promotion values [3] that tend to be much more determined and crystal clear in definitions of the active and responsible attitudes of their actors to the subjects of activity; and this important shift has been well addressed in the modern educational standards being implemented at every tier of the national education system, from the pre-school education (2014) to the ones governed by the Statute of the National Russian Physical Culture and Sport “GTO” Complex (2014).

It is a pleasure to watch that the traditional values and common sense are again favoured by the national general education system as far as the Physical Education discipline is concerned; and it is a great win that one more physical education lesson was added to the mandatory two hours per week; and this success was supported by the win in the national professional education sector where the activists were able to protect from cutting the obligatory physical education hours (that now make up 4 hours per week for the 1-3-year students).

It is also important that senior pupils of the general education schools are required to pass oral examinations in physical education (as compared to the tests in literature and history). These examinations are viewed as an alternative to the physical fitness control tests prescribed by the relevant provisions of the valid curricula; it should be noted that these tests, as confirmed by a few studies [4, 7] can be realistically performed with “satisfactory” scores by hardly 20-30% of the pupils and university students. There is no doubt that modern people must have good physical education knowledge and skills, but they shall in no case exist in isolation from the real experience of health-promotion physical culture and sport activity. As a matter of fact, it is the old question of what is more important – to act, or to know how to act? Ideally, both of the aspects are important, one of them being good for nothing without the other.

As provided by the federal state “3+” grade education standards applied in the higher professional education system, the Physical Education discipline in Block 1 includes the following two parts: the base part covering the physical education theory and practices (giving 2 points) scheduled for 72 hours; and the variable part of 328 hours covering the selected sport courses. This system seems good and operable enough, but it still leaves a loophole for the “timesheet optimizers” who may (when the school community, for instance, lacks conditions/ equipment for the training and education sessions) cut down the statutory 400 academic hours to 72 hours, and assign the balance of time for self-education activity and/or preparations for the GTO Complex tests that were made mandatory for implementation in the Russian education system since September 2015.

The very idea of the GTO Complex tests being implemented to encourage mass physical culture and sports, foster patriotism and bridge the gaps in the physical culture- and sport-centred national traditions – was enthusiastically welcomed by the Russian people, all the more that the success of the 2014 Olympics was very inspiring for the nation and provided a new impetus for the national sport reserve training and broad-based health-improvement ideas. However, it is the negative past experience of forced participation and distortions in the records that inspires criticism of and opposition to the sport movement. Therefore, special efforts need to be taken to: support the progress by efficient and well-coordinated interaction of the relevant government agencies; foster positive public attitudes to the GTO idea; establish a due system to cultivate the health-promotion agenda in the local communities making the people aware of the benefits of the healthy living standards; and build up the promotion campaign on the principles of voluntary participation, accessibility and good motivation (including, among other things, a system of bonuses). Knowing that it is overall endurance that is commonly rated the most poorly developed physical quality of the modern people, top priority will be given by the relevant state agencies to the projects to develop a system of local cost-efficient surface sport grounds, school stadiums, courtyard playgrounds, GTO sport sites, cross-country walking paths, bicycle/ skiing tracks etc.


It should be noted that for the last few years efforts of the government to improve the education system as required to meet the challenges of the post-industrial epoch have quite often been reduced to the “inconsistent revolutions” as a result of poor scientific substantiations for the initiatives. Much efforts have been taken but they were too often designed to “follow suit” rather than give a top priority to the health improvement and personal resource mobilization initiatives for the benefit of the students; but we still have every reason to look forward to the well-grounded health-promotion dynamic reforms being successfully implemented for the benefit of the education community, families and children.

What should be done? We recommend to:

  • Turn back the education system management policies to the track of a humanistic paradigm that provides for the personal development agenda being designed in harmony with the health-protection and health-promotion priorities for the benefit of every education process participant, on the one hand; and with due regard to the interests of the society and nation geared to support the progressive and promising social development agenda, on the other hand, with an emphasis on the due social and personal sensitivity of the education system.
  • Provide for good coordination of efforts of the ministries responsible for education, sports and public health in implementation of the inter-departmental/ networking projects and programs geared to promote healthy living standards and mobilize physical, spiritual and ethical resources of the Russian people for a variety of initiatives including the GTO Complex.
  • Make sure that a top priority is really given to the relevant upbringing and health-improvement agenda by the educational establishments based on the due health-promotion environment being formed in the national education system; necessary programs and projects being developed and implemented to support efficient labour and recreation systems and to encourage healthy living standards being accepted by our children, young people and the educational community.
  • Take actions to ease the administrative pressure on the educational establishments and teaching staff to give way into practice only to the well-grounded and thoroughly tested innovations, with due support of the upstream initiatives by the downstream interests. Cancel the regulation on the Centralized State Testing system being obligatory for every educational establishment, and replace it by an integrated monitoring system to control the education systems performance and accomplishments.
  • Prime objectives of the national physical culture system need to be revised to shift them from the “authoritarian physical training” goals to cultivation of the physical-culture- and sport-centred lifestyles to make them popular among children and young people; with the process being backed by the well-thought-out designs of multisided (sport-centred, health-promotion, adaptive etc.) content of the physical education process, with due consideration for the internal (own) potentials and needs of the pupils and external (standards and requirements; social/ cultural traditions; necessary resource availability etc.) framework for the process.
  • Improve the professional education system with an emphasis on the skill-improvement courses for the subject teachers and sport instructors to establish facilitating prerequisites for the integrated health-promotion education and upbringing process being designed with due consideration for the special needs of both the children experiencing physical disorders and the physically gifted children in need of special motor skills development programs. 


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