‘Disadvantaged’ students as ethnographers: connecting life-worlds to health and physical education

Year: 2019

Author: Wrench, Alison, Garrett, Robynne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The Australian Government is concerned about lifestyle-related conditions, concomitant health risks and costs. Lifestyle-related conditions are associated with risk factors like physical inactivity and/or obesity, which contribute to chronic diseases. Students from low socio-economic households are 1.7 times as likely to be at risk than peers from high socio-economic areas. Consequences include increased risk of chronic health problems in adulthood with negative impacts on employment, productivity and capacity to contribute socially. The health and physical education (HPE) learning area is ascribed responsibility for ensuring students acquire knowledge and capacities for protecting themselves against health risks and adopting healthy lifestyles. However, claims made on behalf of traditional HPE about solving childhood obesity and ensuring healthy lifestyles are contested. Entrenched curricular focus on games and sports and pedagogies that frame obesity as personal failure, whilst ignoring contextual factors that influence health practices have had little impact. Too often traditional approaches are founded on middle-class norms that pathologise the behaviours and choices of those living in poverty. Put simply, ‘disadvantage’ often results in limited access to relevant health-enhancing knowledge, practices and skills. This paper reports on a research project that was informed by these concerns. Specifically, the paper engages with a pressing need for HPE to engage with practices that bring the perspectives of socio-economically ‘disadvantaged’ students into the design and enactment of curriculum. We first locate the project within the field of socially-just pedagogical practices for HPE before addressing the research context and design. We next discuss pedagogical practices that incorporate student voice and student inquiry as means for developing skills and capacities for informed, healthy citizenship. An additional focus is the participating teacher’s practitioner inquiries into pedagogical practices designed support students in analysing, inquiring, and planning to act on informed decisions in relation to health and physical activity. We conclude in arguing for socially just HPE pedagogies that foster self-determination in relation to health and wellbeing, rather than curricula and pedagogies that prescribe knowledge.