More physical education in schools leads to better motor skills and it can also sharpen students’ learning ability. This is shown by Assistant Professor Ingegerd Ericsson at Malmö University in a unique study where she followed more than two hundred schoolchildren for nine years in Malmö in southern Sweden. The differences are especially clear among boys.
“The differences are significant between children who underwent expanded teaching in physical education and children who had regular instruction,” says Ingegerd Ericsson.
Ingegerd Ericsson monitored three cohorts of children in grades 1-3 at Ängslätt School and Sundsbro School in Bunkeflostrand in Malmö. She compared the development of children in an intervention group that received scheduled physical education five days a week, plus extra motor training, with the development of a control group. For nine years Ingegerd Ericsson registered motor-skills observations, such as balance and coordination, in a total of 220 students. She also compared their results on diagnostic tests in grade 2 and their final grades in grade 9.
Now she has compiled the report, which shows that:
• 96 percent of the intervention group compared to 89 percent in the control group achieved the goals of compulsory school and were eligible to go on to upper-secondary school. It is primarily the boys’ achievements—with 96 percent vs. 83 percent—that lies behind this outcome. Moreover, the boys in the intervention group had significantly higher grades in Swedish, English, Mathematics, and PE and health than the boys in the control group.
• In grade 9, 93 percent of the students in the intervention group evinced good motor skills compared to 53 percent in the control group.
The study is unique. There are no previous findings that statistically show the effects and impact of an intervention over so many years. The reliability of the findings is further enhanced by the homogenity in the groups under investigation: the children are the same age, go to the same school, and have parents with comparable education, income, and interest in physical activity.
“Physical education has been pared down from three lessons a week to one or two. We scientifically confirm here that daily timetabled physical education and adapted motor skills training not only improves motor skills but also school achievement. With more physical education and health considerably more students attain passing grades,” says Ingegerd Ericsson.
Professor Magnus Karlsson at the Orthopedic Clinic at the Scania University Hospital is co-author of the study. Magnus Karlsson has previously shown that daily physical education in Bunkeflostrand schools has an excellent effect on the development of the skeleton and muscles, and that children who were most physically active had the least tendency to develop overweight and risk factors for cardiovascular disease.