The challenges of the teaching of Physical Education in a complex world

Los desafíos de la enseñanza de la Educación Física en un mundo complejo


*Director of the Institute of Research and Postgraduate Studies of the Faculty

of Physical Culture. Universidad Central del Ecuador

**Full time Tenure Professor of Management and Commerce. Faculty of Philosophy, Letters

and Education Sciences. Universidad Central del Ecuador

***Full time Tenure Professor of Mathematics and Physics. Faculty of Philosophy, Letters

and Education Sciences. Universidad Central del Ecuador

***Full time Tenure Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty

of Medical Sciences. Universidad Central del Ecuador


PhD. Ángel Freddy Rodríguez Torres*


MSc. Karlita Elizabeth Muñoz Correa**


MSc. Diego Fernando Zavala Urquizo***


MSc. Mauricio Gorky Gómez Díaz****







          Education today faces problems that cannot be understood under only one approach, on the contrary, they must be seen in all their complexity by multiple factors involved in it. Physical Education has not been exempt of this problem, since in many areas it is considered a practical element, excluding theoretical aspects around it. Tackling Physical Education from the complex point of view implies carrying out certain principles for the improvement of the learning process, which are described in this paper. The goal is to describe and analyze the fundamentals that support complex thinking and its relation with the teaching of Physical Education.

          Keywords: Complex thinking. Complexity. Pertinent knowledge.



          En la actualidad la educación afronta diversos problemas que no pueden ser comprendidos bajo solo un enfoque, sino por lo contrario; deben ser vistos con toda su complejidad por la multiplicidad de los factores que intervienen en ella. La Educación Física no ha quedado exenta de esta problemática viéndose en no pocos ámbitos como un elemento solamente práctico, quedando excluidos los aspectos teóricos que circunden en ella. Pensar en la Educación Física desde lo complejo implica llevar a cabo determinados principios para el mejoramiento en el proceso de aprendizaje los cuales son descritos en este artículo. El objetivo es describir y analizar los fundamentos que sustentan el pensamiento complejo y su relación con la enseñanza de la Educación Física.

          Palabras clave: Pensamiento complejo. Complejidad. Conocimiento pertinente.


Reception: 09/11/2016 - Acceptance: 01/08/2017


1st Review: 12/18/2016 - 2nd Review: 01/03/2017


Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes, Revista Digital. Buenos Aires, Año 21, Nº 224, Enero de 2017. http://www.efdeportes.com/

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    Physical Education has been internationally considered an important element of the formation process of the human being (Moreno, Coll, & Ruiz, 2009; Kirk, 2014), hence the International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport states that “Every human being has a fundamental right to physical education, physical activity and sport without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or any other basis”. (UNESCO, 2015a, p. 2).

    Likewise, in 2015 UNESCO published Quality Physical Education Guidelines for Policy Makers, which state that the time children and adults around the world dedicate to physical activity is decreasing, which has a negative impact on life expectancy, health condition and the ability to be successful in studies, social life and work. Hence UNESCO (2015b) defines Quality Physical Education (QPE) as:

    The planned, progressive, inclusive learning experience that forms part of the curriculum in early years, primary and secondary education. In this respect, QPE acts as the foundation for a lifelong engagement in physical activity and sport. The learning experience offered to children and young people through physical education lessons should be developmentally appropriate to help them acquire the psychomotor skills, cognitive understanding, and social and emotional skills they need to lead a physically active life. (p. 9)

    Ecuador has taken these elements as reference and Physical Education, as part of the Ecuadorian educative system, has the mission to:

    “Incorporate the physical activity culturally significant to the comprehensive formation of the citizen, so that its regular, healthy and responsible practice contributes to their individual and collective fulfillment in the frame of good living” (Ministry of Education, 2016, p.41).

    As a school discipline, Physical Education (PE) helps the students to be able to build their corporal, motor and social identity with autonomy and develop skills that allow them to develop as rightful citizens in the framework of a democratic state (Ministry of Education, 2016). For that reason Physical Education should be redefined and its teaching should not be seen as an isolated subject but interrelate with others so as to understand and solve daily life problems.

    Therefore, physical education should help the graduates of the Unified General Baccalaureate to choose among the multiple body practices, those that motivate them and its practice generate wellbeing for the rest of their life. In that regard, PE:

    However, the very process of the direction of physical education is influenced by several variables, many of them evaluated from a reductionist vision, dedicating its postulates to the physical part or the human body (Almonacid, 2006). The abovementioned infers the need to establish a more thorough vision of the area studied, since the complex thinking aspires to a multidimensional knowledge of the corporal, affective, emotional and cognitive reality, an aspect that can contribute to the adjustment of the curricular contents for a physical education adapted to the variables and different needs of the students.

    For that reason, this paper is aimed at describing and analyzing the fundamentals that support the complex thinking and its relation with the teaching of Physical Education, which will theoretically contribute to the analysis of its range.


    To develop this research some considerations stated by Sánchez & Botella (2010) were taken into account, since they are applicable to the reviews. That has allowed collecting, analyzing and synthesizing the knowledge of the research studies previously developed (Urra & Barría, 2010), related to the complex thinking and Physical Education. To attain that goal was conducted a search of relevant studies related to articles that make reference to complex thinking and the teaching of Physical Education (Guirao-Goris, Olmedo & Ferrer, 2008). The materials used were research papers, theoretical articles, books, PhD theses, among others. The information found was analyzed distinguishing research papers from theoretical articles.

    The analysis of the information was carried out inductively, and as the material was being reviewed several elements and fundamentals of the complex thinking emerged, as well as its usage in the teaching of Physical Education, which in order to favor a better understanding and exposition were divided taking into account a double vision: from the complex thinking point of view, and from the perspective of the person that teaches (professor), the problems they face and the proposals to improve the teaching of Physical Education, as it is defined by Sánchez (2010) & Abad et al. (2013).

Complex thinking and complexity

    Complex thinking and complexity imply numerous relations, which are linked to form a professional with competence that allows solving professional problems as a teacher.

    Edgar Morin may be considered the most renowned author in complexity issues, defining it as follows:

    At first sight complexity is a weave (complexus: what is woven together) of heterogeneous components inseparably associated: it implies the paradox of the one and the multiple. More closely, complexity is the weave of events, actions, interactions, retroactions, determinations, chances that constitute our phenomenal world. Thus, complexity presents with the troubling features of entangle ement, inextricability, disorder, ambiguity, uncertainty… Hence the need for knowledge to put in order the phenomena rejecting disorder, to disregard the uncertain, that is to say, to select order and certainty, remove ambiguity, clarify, distinguish, prioritize…but such operations might produce blindness if the rest of the characters are removed from complexity (Morin, 2011a, p. 32).

    Taking as reference the previous definition, it is indispensable to take into account all the elements that comprise education, without disregarding or isolating any of them, since their interaction allows reaching diverse conclusions closer to reality.

Physical Education from the complex thinking

    At present Physical Education has difficulties, and its way of thinking should be rethought as Morin refers (2011b), an institution cannot be reformed without having changed the minds before, but minds cannot be changed if institutions are unreformed (p. 147).

    For that reason, it is necessary that educative institutions not only develop the students, but readjust and adapt as well to the new technological circumstances and social demands that allow carrying out a proper educative process.

    The problem of teaching is the compartmentalization of knowledge and the incapability to articulate them altogether; this is demonstrated in the plans of study in which teachers run their programs but are lack of articulation and integration, thwarting the comprehension of the profession’s problems (Morin, 2002).

    Physical Education has not been excluded from this problem, leading to an incomplete formation of the students. A correct articulation and a full comprehension of the professor of all the disciplines around them, is an important advance in the transformation of the problem. Therefore, a teacher must link all the subjects in which he was trained, since that will allow a better professional performance.

    Teaching today provides knowledge without teaching what knowledge is. It does not care about knowing what knowing is, that is to say, it does not study cognitive devices, difficulties, weaknesses or promptness to error and illusion, because all knowledge takes a risk of error and illusion (Morin, 2011b, p. 149).

    This indicates that the teaching of Physical Education is based on the repetition of knowledge, without taking into account the reason of the exercises or the different elements taught in class, with a negative influence in the development of diverse qualities of the students. The professor should orient not only the physical development, but the psychological one, as well as sociological and axiological aspects, among others that should get related to satisfy the current demands of the modern society.

    In that regard, Freire (2008) states that educative institutions teach knowledge, but not its nature, that takes the risk of error and illusion, because all knowledge begins by perception until the knowledge of words, ideas, theories, beliefs; at the same time it is a translation and reconstruction of the reality. This has led to the formation of eminent specialists whose thinking is very fragmented, since they are lack of praxis, reflection and action to change the world; for that reason, the institution should be conceived with the link between the theoretical and practical development.

    For Peña (2007), this has led to certain learning problems that can only be noted in the light of the complex thinking, which are transversal, transnational, multidimensional and interdisciplinary. They are described below from a theoretical analysis:

a.     Fragmented knowledge: Fragmented knowledge does not allow understanding multidimensional, transnational, global and planetary disciplines and problems, since the capacity of contextualizing knowledge and integrate it to broader and more complex groups has been lost (Morin, 2011c; Pereira, 2010).

    For its part, Physical Education is more fragmented than ever, in a multitude of practices and especially in a big amount of juxtaposed conceptions (Rodríguez, 2003, p. 259).

    It indicates that the formation lacks knowledge oriented towards a same goal, which causes a confused professional that sometimes cannot answer the demands of their students, since they cannot articulate all the knowledge correctly.

b.    The formative process of the professors do not respond to the requirements of our time: Amuchástegui (2012) states that the teachers of Physical Education do not feel prepared at the time to run a lesson, and have difficulties in: i) the identification of the main contents of the discipline; ii) the ways to build the contents to teach and iii) the strategies for teaching. “We have to improve our knowledge and our techniques and I think that we have to maintain criticism permanent” (Larrosa, 2003, p. 2).

    That is why it is necessary to teach, learn, investigate and reflect about the Physical Education knowledge area, and the need to propose valuable contents to enrich culture in the specific area of the educative system.

    In Ecuador, there is a reduced number of universities that offer the career of Physical Education, so there is no standardization of curricular nets in the higher education institutions, causing that the knowledge taught are inadequate and insufficient, have low levels of quality and also that some professionals show heterogeneous competences, for which it is necessary to reinforce them (Pascual & Fernández, 2005; UNESCO, 2015b).

    This causes a not uniform preparation of the Physical Education teacher and at the same time creates instability and uncertainty at the time to face certain situations that can be present in this educative area.

    Carnevale (2013) thinks that in the initial training of the Physical Education professors put more emphasis on the practical knowledge than the theoretical one. It was considered as an eminently practical-technical field ignoring the reflexive aspect that every practice has and the importance of the research of the practice itself. At first, Physical Education was seen as a profession that only required practice, nevertheless at present this issue is object of analysis and work by including essential theoretical aspects to carry out the educative process and its reflexive articulation. Likewise, “the fragmentation and descontextualization of the training curriculum, the separation of theory and practice, research and action, the divorce between educative institutions and university” (Pérez, 2012, p. 257), between what has been learned during the training and what is truly required for a proper performance.

    The permanent preparation of the Physical Education teacher allows reinforcing the effectiveness of the active professors through a training based on the respect of the human rights and the principles of inclusive education. For which the continuous professional development (CPD) of the teaching personnel should be mandatory, structured, systematic and a political priority (UNESCO, 2015a; UNESCO, 2015b).

    Unfortunately, the permanent training is not coherent with the professional exercise (Pascual & Fernández, 2005; Rodríguez, D. 2015), which has a significant influence in the teaching performance.

c.     The milieu is not taken into account to understand problems significantly: essential problems are never fragmentary and global problems are more and more essential. Besides, all particular problems cannot be stated and thought correctly, if not in their context, and the context of these problems should be stated every time in a planetary context […]. An intelligence incapable of considering the context and the planetary complexity, makes us blind, unaware and irresponsible (Morin, 2001, p. 15).

Analyzing Physical Education from complexity

    Analyzing Physical Education from complexity is nothing more than to properly articulate the knowledge acquired. For that, different disciplines should be considered, which will be in charge, from the cognitive area, to search for more scientific solutions to the problems.

    In education there has been a traditional conception based on the expositive transmission of knowledge, in which the educator is always who knows and the students, the one who does not know (Freire, 2008, p. 18). The way of teaching was based on the transmission of scientific contents as finished and closed knowledge that represent the reality. This transmission was lack of stimulation and so the knowledge was hard to remember and often out of context. To go beyond the perfect lesson that favors reflection and participation, combines the individual study of the student with the group debate. Therefore, teachers should help the students to acquire a deeper knowledge of a topic, not only memorizing facts and figures (UNESCO, 2016; Rodríguez, 2016; Rodríguez, 2012; Biggs, 2008; Bolaños, 2016;).

    For that reason it is required a critical teaching and a critical way to understand, and not a teaching from separate disciplines, but to feed from them. To treat big problems kills natural curiosity (Freire, 2006a; Morin, 2011a).

    The teaching staff has difficulties to create favorable class environments based on research and to support their students in the development of opinions informed about scientific research and the nature of science (Yu-Liang Chang & Huan-Hung Wu, 2015; Crawford, 2007).

    To solve this problem, it is necessary to reflect about some principles that contribute to a better learning process: which is described below:

Join the knowledge: To promote a space where they learn to establish connections that allow a better interdisciplinary understanding, a space in which they integrate or articulate different contents and develop the capacity to tackle complex ideas and transfer their knowledge among diverse global contexts and situations (Erickson, 2012). Uribe (2007) states that it is recommended to search for scenarios that transcend the fragmented vision of the world, life and the human being. The problems stated in the development of a theory of the physical training cannot be solved without the support of other scientific disciplines. The structural and functional transformations of the human body that are in the basis of the motor activity and the improvement of the physical and sport performance can only be explained if it is used the methodology of anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, physics, psychology and other sciences related to human behavior. Therefore, this approach should be interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary (Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, 2013).

    Undoubtedly, this is necessary to achieve a better quality of the Physical Education lesson, in which students would acquire habits and skills fast, and these not only depend on the technical part but on the characteristics of the body, the age, socio-cultural and territorial features among others that once articulated, allows reaching the goal planned.

    From the complex point of view, Physical Education cannot be developed without the correct articulation of different sciences that contribute to the resolution of certain problems; this is not achieved without taking into account internal and external factors that in their constant interaction will transform one another. In this aspect, interdisciplinary nature allows that the articulation is carried out from, among other components, methods, such as Physical Education when related to Physiology, Pedagogy or Psychology, these work independently in relation with the parts of the body, the way to run lessons depending on the type of students, age and the way of teaching, etc; which undoubtedly would bring its improvement, noting its final preparation, unlike the interaction among disciplines (Rodríguez, Capote, Rendón & Valdés, 2016).

Construct pertinent knowledge: Knowledge is a social production, resulting from action and reflection, from the research that allows understanding and interpretation of the phenomena present in real life and generate multiple individual and more efficient solutions, before the diversity of concrete situations of physical activity and sport (Freire, 2008; Freire, 2013; Balagué & Torrents, 2011).

    In Physical Education appear situations that need to be solved analyzing all the elements around it. At present, the new knowledge approaches allow the comprehension of science and reality, stating the complexity of the thinking styles, the integrations of knowledge and contents, multidimensionality in interpretative approaches, poly-casual facts and the recursive effects of the tensions, problems and opportunities of the social and natural realities (Larrea, 2015).

    This ratifies that there is no scientific activity that can be seen as an isolated element and only disciplinary relations and a correct articulation can lead to conclusions, without leaving questions.

    According to Rozengardt (2005), Physical Education is a discipline aimed at understanding and orienting the body practice of people of different ages and interests and it classifies them as objects of knowledge and learning (p.114).

  • Consider the context to generate authentic knowledge: “the learning quality depends on the learning context, because they react according to the perception of the demands of the context and of the concrete situations they respond to” (Pérez, 2012, p. 269). For which it is necessary to design contextualized tasks, where the students relate what they have learned with other disciplines and daily situations as real as possible favoring ways of action to generalize and transfer to several contexts and therefore become practical examples of the topic, “reflecting on acting and about acting”, having various opinions of the same reality that allow the development of the critic thinking (Mora, 2009; Morin, 2011b; Gil & Cordente, 2011).

  • Located learning is defined as the generation of situations in which the student participates in a real environment with other students; learns real life contexts and takes part in authentic tasks. In these situations the teacher should encourage the student to become interested in learning by himself, favouring the understanding of the content contextualized in their professional activity. One of the most powerful strategies for the teacher is to design contextualized tasks based on the real world, internships or experiences to favour an everlasting and useful learning (Trilling & Fadel, 2009), providing the students with a real learning environment and cultivating their capacity to solve real problems, encourage them to explore actively and solve problems scientifically, developing a positive attitude towards scientific learning (Yu-Liang Chang & Huan-Hung Wu, 2015) so that the students transfer the knowledge to different contexts and become practical examples of meaning and functionality about the work, “where they can reflect in the performance and about the performance” (Mora, 2009).

    For Contreras (2010) “knowledge cannot be unrelated from experience; it needs to keep a living relation with it, because it is from experience, that pedagogical restlessness emerges, the question for sense and adequate things” (p. 68).

  • The main resources for learning: The resources either material or methodological are essential at the time to face a correct process in Physical Education. Therefore, the production of material and didactic resources should be stimulated in order to favour and guide autonomous learning and the application of knowledge to real life problems, generating the necessary conditions for a meaningful learning (Pérez, Soto, Sola & Serván, 2009a). From the methodological point of view, it is essential to relate the knowledge acquired with reality, this causes a more dynamic learning, which generates unforgettable marks on the students.

  • Strategies are important, since it is task of the teacher to make all the contents planned transcend and acquire meaning inn each Physical Education lesson, taking into account the characteristics of the students, their stories and experiences (Ministry of Education, 2016). For that reason it is necessary to foster methodological plurality. There is no teaching method efficient and correct enough to any learning objective, in any context and for any area of knowledge. It is necessary to recommend the methodological plurality to deal with the diversity of people, situations and areas of knowledge (Pérez, Soto, Sola & Serván, 2009b).

    In that regard Bain (2007) states the importance of creating a “natural and critic environment for learning”, with encouraging contents and a variety of activities for the students, where they face important and intriguing problems through authentic tasks that motivate them in a significant way.

    Practice is a learning space: The practical element of learning is very recurrent nowadays, according to Murillo, Martínez & Hernández (2011), it is about learning by doing, learning to think, fostering cooperative, creative and autonomous work that favours learning in a comprehensive way, solving problems.

    Real pre-professional practice should foster research about school and cultural aspects inside the educative context, and they should be based on situations and experiences capable of articulating the theory-practice duo, so that the student think and act to transform the world, to intervene and recreate it, build theories on the teaching process in an uncertain and complex world, producing a learning of a lifetime, which allows them reflect about the work in class, contribute to understand the reality they are going to face in their professional life and help consolidating their vocation for teaching (Sayago y Chacón, 2006; Rodríguez, 2015; Freire, 2008; Freire, 2013).

    Physical Education is a science that depends on this interaction, because since the first years of the career, practice is the key word, “not only for the theory to be more relevant and significant for each learner” (Pérez, 2012, p. 258), but also because it allows them to get familiar with their future professional exercise.


    The new challenges present in education cannot be solved with old models. It is necessary to rethink the educative process, since it does not correspond to the dynamic changes of the society, because the advance of the ICT and the new ways of learning go very fast. But education is a slow process, and that thwarts the learning of students. This task is very complex because it requires the theoretical frames of reference with the representations of Physical Education and the knowledge of the teaching practice in the territory, since it is a matter of making possible the reconstruction of the goals and reach the impact desired (Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 40).

    Therefore, during the training process of the teachers, should be considered strategies based on meta-cognition that allows understanding the Physical Education problems, contributing to a significant solution.


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