physical education

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physical education

training and practice in sports, gymnastics, etc., as in schools and colleges
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Physical Education


a social and pedagogical process constituting an organic part of general upbringing. Physical education is intended to strengthen one’s health and harmoniously develop the body. It improves one’s physical attributes and skills, helps develop and perfect motor skills necessary in everyday life and work, and eventually leads to physical perfection. The basic methods of physical education are physical exercises (specially selected natural movements and series of movements, for example, those used in gymnastics and track and field), various sports, and hardening of the body (using healthful natural forces, such as sun, air, and water). Also important are the observance of healthful habits at work and in daily life and the mastering of special knowledge and skills for exercising, hardening the body, and maintaining personal and public hygiene. The goals, content, organization, and methods of physical education, which are conditioned by socioeconomic structure, reflect class ideology.

In the USSR and other socialist countries, physical education is part of communist upbringing and is closely linked with intellectual, moral, and aesthetic upbringing, labor training, and poly-technical education. The goal of physical education is to train physically developed, healthy, active builders of communist society who are capable of highly productive work and the defense of the motherland. The Program of the CPSU adopted by the Twenty-second Congress in 1961 stipulates the task “to provide for the upbringing, beginning in the earliest years of childhood, of a physically strong young generation with harmoniously developed physical and intellectual skills” (Programma KPSS, 1977, p. 96).

Physical education is found in all societies. In primitive society it existed in the form of physical exercise and games and competitions based on the movements used in work, hunting, and battle; these competitions reflected various rituals. In primitive society, physical education helped develop physical strength, endurance, and determination in the young generation. In slaveholding society, for example, in the countries of the Far East, ancient Greece and Rome, and the states of Transcaucasia and Central Asia, physical education became a state system for training the youth of the ruling class for civil and military service. It was taught at home, as well as in state educational institutions and the army; it was, for example, an important part of upbringing in Sparta.

In feudal society, physical education was a basic part of knightly or princely upbringing and consisted of horseback riding, fencing, archery, swimming, hunting, wrestling, and military and athletic games. With the growth of cities, physical education spread among various strata of the urban and surrounding peasant populations, especially after the founding of leagues for archers, fencers, and other athletes. On holidays contests were held among the townspeople in running, wrestling, rowing, fencing, archery, and ball games.

Interest in physical education grew significantly during the Renaissance, and humanists introduced the subject into the schools. In Italy in the early 15th century, Vittorino da Feltre opened a school in which great attention was paid to physical education and to the pupil’s individual intellectual and physical pursuits. In France, Rabelais and Montaigne proposed that physical education be taught along with moral and intellectual upbringing.

J. A. Comenius considered physical education a major part of family upbringing and elementary education; his books The Great Didactic and The School of Infancy devote a great deal of attention to hygiene, nutrition, and healthful habits for children, as well as to physical exercises and games. Similar ideas were proposed in the 17th century by the learned Russian monk Epifanii Slavinetskii, the first in Russia to try to classify action games and to designate those suitable for the physical education of children. T. More and T. Campanella considered physical education an important part of the well-rounded upbringing of growing generations. According to J. Locke, physical education serves chiefly to improve children’s health and provide, in a suitably organized manner, an outlet for children’s natural need for action. J.-J. Rousseau in his pedagogical treatise Emile: Or, on Education emphasized the. importance of physical education for the intellectual development and labor training of children. Under the influence of Rousseau’s theories, the forms and methods of physical education were perfected in 18th-century German Philanthropinums, “schools of philanthropy and good manners.” These schools initiated the German national system of gymnastics, which was founded by the philanthropist pedagogues G. U. Vieth and J. C. F. Guts Muths and later developed by F. Jahn. J. H. Pestalozzi developed a program of elementary physical exercises for the limbs and included gymnastics in the primary course of study in Switzerland. The German pedagogue A. Spitz introduced exercises graduated according to degree of complexity; called free exercises, they are performed on various pieces of gymnastic equipment. P. Ling initiated the Swedish system of gymnastics, which basically consists of series of exercises to develop and strengthen individual parts of the body. In Bohemia, M. Tyrš created a national system of gymnastics known as the Sokol system, consisting of exercises on gymnastic equipment, free and group exercises, gymnastic pyramids, and round dances. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, national systems of physical education were consolidated in France by F. Amoros and G. Démeny, in Denmark by N. Bukh, and in Great Britain, where athletic games were employed. In a number of capitalist countries, physical education became closely linked with scouting and has been used as a tool of militarization in the upbringing of young people.

In Russia, in the 18th century, the problems of physical education were examined by I. I. Betskoi, N. I. Novikov, and A. N. Radishchev. V. G. Belinskii wrote about the necessity of starting physical education at an early age. N. G. Chernyshevskii and N. A. Dobroliubov advocated the harmonious development of a person’s moral, intellectual, and physical qualities. K. D. Ushinskii, who linked physical education with labor and with the intellectual and moral development of the child, advocated the introduction of physical education into the school curriculum. An original system of physical education was created by P. F. Lesgaft. Pointing to the great importance of physical education in developing children’s perception and cognition, Lesgaft held that the methods of physical education should be based on the same principles as academic studies. Lesgaft’s student V. V. Gorinevskii made an important contribution to the systematization of physical education.

In the late 19th century, sports became an increasingly important means and method of physical education; the competitive nature of sports is important in education, and systematic physical training is necessary for high achievement in sports.

In the USSR the state system of physical education is based on the Marxist principle that physical education is important for the overall development of the human personality. Karl Marx wrote, “By education we understand three things. Firstly: Mental education. Secondly: Bodily education, such as is given in schools of gymnastics, and by military exercise. Thirdly: Technological training” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 16, p. 198). V. I. Lenin noted, “The youth is particularly in need of joy of life and cheerfulness. Healthy sports—gymnastics, swimming, excursions, physical exercise of every description; also a diversity of intellectual pursuits—teaching, criticism, and research; and all of this in combination, as far as possible!” (cited by K. Zetkin, Vospominaniia o Lenine, Moscow, 1955, pp. 49–50).

Since the first years of Soviet power, the program set forth by the Communist Party on the thorough physical education of the people has been executed by state and public physical-culture and sports organizations and national education institutions, with the participation of trade unions and the Komsomol. The basic trends in the Soviet physical-education system during the various stages of the construction of socialist society were determined by the resolutions of the Central Committee of the CPSU On the Tasks of the Party in Physical Culture (1925), On the Physical-Culture Movement (1929), On the Execution of Directives by the Committee of Physical Culture and Sports of Party and State Dealing With the Development of a Mass Physical-culture Movement in the Country and the Raising of Skills of Soviet Athletes (1948), and On Measures for the Further Development of Physical Culture and Sports (1966).

The policies and standards of the Soviet physical-education system are based on the all-Union physical-culture program Ready for Labor and Defense of the USSR (GTO). Standards for the awarding of sports categories and honorary titles are determined by the Uniform All-Union Sports Classification.

Organized physical-education activities may be compulsory or voluntary. State supervision of compulsory physical education for the young is confirmed by the Basic Principles of Legislation of the USSR and the Union Republics on Popular Education (1973). Compulsory courses in uniform state programs are given in preschool facilities, general education schools, and all types of specialized educational institutions, as well as in the army and militia. In many places of work the daily schedule includes calisthenic breaks.

Extensive programs for voluntary physical culture, sports, and touring are organized for all age groups by physical-culture groups, sports societies and departments, juvenile sports schools, divisions and clubs of the Voluntary Society for Cooperation With the Army, Air Force, and Navy, tourist boards, and educational-cultural and extracurricular groups. Regular programs of morning exercises and calisthenics at work are broadcast over All-Union Radio and Central Television.

The successful completion of the tasks of physical upbringing is ensured by the constant consolidation of the material and technological basis of the physical-culture movement—the building of stadiums, gymnasiums, camps, swimming pools, and other sports structures and facilities, as well as the mass production of sports equipment. Also important are planned courses of training for teachers and coaches in specialized higher and secondary educational institutions and regular physical examinations for persons going in for physical training and sports.

In the USSR and other socialist countries, which have state physical-education systems, physical education is becoming increasingly important in society and in the struggle of the working people to build communism. It helps minimize the distinction between sedentary and physical labor, raises labor productivity, improves public health, and promotes physical culture and sports.

Capitalist states as a rule have no uniform physical-education programs. Compulsory school activities tend to stress a few specific sports, making proper overall physical education impossible. There is likewise no state system of physical-culture standards comparable to GTO. Organized amateur activities for working young people function with the extremely limited financial means and facilities provided by the athletic associations of trade unions. Bourgeois athletic clubs and other associations do not concern themselves with physical education, but rather with the cultivation of certain sports for commercial gain and prestige.


Teoriia i metodika fizicheskogo vospitaniia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1967.
Sovetskaia sistema fizicheskogo vospitaniia. Edited by G. I. Kukushkin. Moscow, 1975.
Istoriia fizicheskoi kul’tury i sporta. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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