UNESCO Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport: A step in the right direction
The UNESCO International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport has undergone several revisions since its adoption in 1978. Firmly rooted in a human rights approach, the newest iteration of the Charter is ambitious in its desire to cover as many elements of physical education and sport as possible, from policy-making to creating safe and environmentally conscious programmes.
One of the strengths of the Charter is the recognition that physical activity and sport needs to be encouraged at all levels; it begins in the home where family members and caretakers teach children at an early age the importance of physical activity for well-being through play. Number nine of the preamble explains this as a way to ensure the development of the "skills, attitudes, values, knowledge, understanding and enjoyment necessary" to foster physical literacy and a belief that physical activity is essential throughout a person’s life. Article two expands upon this by stating that physical literacy is not only useful in the sense of feeling coordinated and in balance, but is a necessary life skill.
Though the Charter goes on to prescribe frameworks in which local stakeholders such as volunteers and coaches, national organisations and governments should work to create sound programmes and safe environments for participants, the learning component of physical literacy remains strongly planted in the idea of youth. The Charter either refers to adults as in leadership/gatekeeper positions or as part of a vague group of participants. There is no specific attention paid to teaching adults or their learning process. This seems unrealistic given that many adults have never had the opportunity to become physically literate. Finding a programme that fits their schedule, interests and provides the necessary support can be particularly challenging. Furthermore, the Charter does not recognise that youth can be instrumental in teaching and inspiring adults to be more active in informal ways.
The Charter also fails to discuss the evolution of adult physical activity. While there is language on including communities often excluded from physical education such as the elderly and minorities, the document lacks focus on helping adults develop new skills and practices as their physical capabilities change. Remaining physically active is a lifelong endeavor, and though adults are surely responsible for their own health, they also need support. Reminding stakeholders at all levels that the elderly have the right and need of appropriate physical education programmes should be articulated more clearly. Hopefully stakeholders will reflect on this when considering the Charter and will push for more emphasis on understanding the complexities of adult participation in physical education and activities.