Current Situation in Spain of Physical Activity in the Natural Environment within Physical Education

Estrella González-Melero

Antonio Baena-Extremera

Raúl Baños

*Corresponding author: Estrella González-Melero egcrellica@gmail.com

Original Language Spanish

Cite this article

González-Melero, E., Baena-Extremera, A. & Baños, R. (2023). Current situation of Physical Activity in the Natural Environment in Physical Education in Spain. Apunts Educación Física y Deportes, 153, 9-26. https://doi.org/10.5672/apunts.2014-0983.es.(2023/3).153.02

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Abstract

The aim of this study was to analyse the teachers’ treatment, in Spain, of the Physical Activity in the Natural Environment content block as part of Physical Education in Secondary Education. The study developed for this research conforms to a non-experimental, sectional, descriptive and correlational design, resulting in a nationally representative study. A total of 453 teachers participated (294 male and 159 female teachers) and a questionnaire created and validated by a committee of experts for the occasion was used, which was applied at national level. The results showed a high percentage of teachers who plan activities in the natural environment (91.4%); arguments about a lack of training in the field when not planning these activities and the activities most worked on were found (orienteering, hiking, first aid and games in nature). Progress was noted in the incorporation of Physical Activities in the Natural Environment as part of the classroom programme in Physical Education in Secondary Education, but not in the content worked on in these sessions. This study leads us to know the existing deficiencies in the teaching staff in Spain and the needs required for a better implementation of the Physical Activity in the Natural Environment block as part of Physical Education.

Introduction 

In 2020, the emergence of COVID-19 and social constraints had considerable impact on human lifestyles (Ocaña et al., 2022). Action protocols and limitations were imposed on people’s daily lives to prevent the spread of the virus. Measures such as social distancing and house and perimeter lockdown resulted in a large part of the population suffering on a psychological level, with pathologies such as depression, stress, anxiety, among others (Ballester-Martínez et al., 2022). Lockdown led to a decrease in physical activity levels and contact with the outdoors, as demonstrated by some studies (Camacho-Cardenosa et al., 2020). In these moments, people realised how important both physical activity and the environment could be in their lives. Following the removal of these restrictions, a large part of the population took to nature to perform different types of physical activities in the natural environment (PANE) without the proper training, leading to all the serious consequences that this can have for the natural environment and for the person him/herself. It is therefore necessary to reflect on the importance of raising awareness and training people in the practice of PANE in educational centres.

Teachers have perceived an opportunity to innovate and introduce these “more fashionable” sports into their teaching programmes (Baena-Extremera et al., 2012; García-Merino & Lizandra, 2021). 

Much of the interest among physical education (PE) teachers in implementing these activities as part of their programme is due to the educational potential of PANE (Dalmau-Torres et al., 2020). In addition to being part of the subject of PE in the curriculum, the different benefits they bring to student development have been demonstrated(Gibbons et al., 2018; Kyle et al., 2016). 

In this sense, in order to investigate the introduction of PANE as part of PE classroom programmes, various investigations have been carried out over the years (Granero-Gallegos & Baena-Extremera, 2014; Hurtado-Barroso et al., 2019; Sáez Padilla, 2008). Thanks to these studies, the increase in recent decades regarding the inclusion of PANE in PE sessions can be observed (Sáez-Padilla et al., 2017; Sáez Padilla, 2008). 

However, even though PANE is part of the PE curriculum as a block of content, there are still teachers who do not incorporate these activities into their classroom programmes (Dalmau-Torres et al., 2020; Sáez-Padilla et al., 2017). Peñarrubia Lozano et al. (2011), among others, studied the reasons that lead teachers not to carry out these activities in the natural environment, concluding that the most relevant reasons were teaching responsibility, safety, teacher training and time flexibility. In this regard, teacher training has been one of the most prominent in the research carried out in relation to PANE in schools (Dalmau-Torres et al., 2020; Hurtado-Barroso et al., 2019; Macías Sierra, 2014). However, none of the aforementioned research has studied the inclusion of PANE as a function of the socio-demographic variables of the teacher and the school, so it would be interesting to ascertain whether these variables influence the inclusion of PANE.

In addition, a clear interest was expressed in identifying the type of activities carried out in the educational centres in relation to PANE. In this respect, the literature shows that the main contents worked on are orienteering, hiking and games in nature (Granero-Gallegos et al., 2010; Peñarrubia Lozano et al., 2011; Torres et al., 2016). To justify not including other activities such as climbing or caving, among others, teachers allege, in addition to the disadvantages mentioned above, the complexity of combining the modification of the school timetable with outings to the natural environment or the lack of specific material for carrying out other activities (Hurtado-Barroso et al., 2019).

Based on the importance of these activities as educational content in physical, psychological, emotional and value development (Granero-Gallegos & Baena-Extremera, 2007) and in relation to the lack of current research at national level in this field, the aim of this work was to analyse the implementation of PANE within PE in Compulsory Secondary Education (CSE) and to update the scientific literature on this subject. The following hypotheses are thus established: 

H1 A high percentage of teachers include PANE in their annual classroom programme. 

H2 Those teachers who consider that they do not have adequate or sufficient training in PANE do not include these activities as part of their annual CSE PE programme.

H3 The inclusion of PANE in classroom programmes will vary according to socio-demographic variables.

H4 The contents most worked on as part of the block of contents comprising activities in the natural environment in CSE continue to be those of orienteering, hiking and games in nature.

Method

Design

The study developed for this research conforms to a non-experimental, sectional, descriptive and correlational design (Sierra, 2001). It is a non-experimental research as there is no intervention work with an experimental group pre and post. It is sectional as it is carried out with a group at a specific time. It is correlational in relation to the pattern of tests that are carried out at a precise moment in time.

Sample

The questionnaire was sent to all active secondary school PE teachers. Out of the total number of secondary school PE teachers at national level, 453 teachers (294 male and 159 female teachers) participated. This entailed obtaining a nationally representative sample, given that the data obtained on the number of people teaching secondary education in Spain in 2021 (the date on which the survey was carried out) was 16,064 teachers, of which 453 teachers from the 1st to 4th years of CSE, from all parts of Spain (North, South, East, West, Central and islands) in both rural and urban areas, took part. To this end, according to Gil (2015), a confidence level of 97% with a margin of error of 3% in the representative sample has been calculated.

Validation instrument and procedure

The construction of the ad hoc questionnaire followed the guidelines of Gutiérrez Dávila and Oña Sicilia (2005). Firstly, a literature review was carried out on questionnaires analysing the inclusion of PANE in classroom programmes. From this review, pre-existing questionnaires emerged, such as that of Granero-Gallegos and Baena-Extremera (2014) and Sáez Padilla (2008), which served as a basis for the creation of the questionnaire of the present study. This questionnaire is composed of three dimensions: teaching experience, knowledge/training in the area of PANE and educational models. In addition, a section dedicated to general socio-demographic data is also considered. The questionnaire consisted of a total of 25 items with responses collected through a Likert-type, multiple-choice and dichotomous scale. 

This questionnaire was pre-validated by consulting five experts, doctors and graduates in Physical Education Sciences, with extensive experience in PANE, and experts in the design and validation of educational questionnaires. Together with the questionnaire, they were provided with an answer sheet on which they could indicate on a scale of 1-4 univocity, relevance, importance and appropriate comments. A statistical analysis with the responses of all the experts was carried out using SPSS v.26. For this purpose, the Intraclass Correlation Coefficient (ICC) was calculated, calculating the experts’ agreement in terms of univocity, relevance and importance for each item. The values obtained are presented in Table 1.

Table 1

Results of the ICC among 5 experts.

See Table

The variation in the judges’ scores was resolved using the interquartile range. Finally, those items that required it were corrected and reformulated, according to the suggestions of the experts. Subsequently, the reliability analysis was calculated with a Cronbach’s alpha, obtaining a value of .831.

Procedure

The sampling procedure consisted of two steps. First, a questionnaire was designed and validated by expert judges. Subsequently, the questionnaires were sent by e-mail to all schools nationwide, with a request that they be disseminated to the school’s PE teachers. In the description of the questionnaire, the objective of the study, the voluntary nature of participation and, of course, the confidential treatment of the answers were stated. At the same time, maximum honesty was requested and the anonymity of the questionnaire was communicated, following the recommendations of compliance with the rights of participants in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki (2013).

After much reflection, taking into account the difficulty posed by the school year, it was decided that the questionnaire should be administered between the months of March and June 2021, taking advantage of the fact that teachers would be more free in terms of COVID protocols and would have the time and inclination to dedicate the necessary time to filling in the survey.

Statistical Analysis

First, a descriptive statistical analysis was carried out using frequency analysis. Subsequently, an analysis of the relationship between variables was carried out using Fisher’s test.

Results

The most significant data collected in the questionnaire are shown below, organised according to the statistical analyses carried out.

According to the results, it can be asserted that the observed profile of PE teachers is a person between 35-42 years of age, with a degree in Physical Activity and Sport Sciences (PASS) (65.1%) and Master’s and/or Doctorate studies (25.8%). These teachers have been teaching for more than five years (73.1%) and are permanent staff (41.7%). The most popular outdoor activities are trekking, MTB, orienteering and sailing/surfing/kitesurfing.

Most of the participants surveyed were from public schools (73.7%) in urban areas (75.7%). 

With regard to the question “Is the teaching of PANE part of your classroom programme?”, of the total number of responses obtained, 91.4% of the teachers stated that they included PANE in their classroom programme, while only 8.6% stated that this type of activity was not part of their classroom programme. 

Next, those teachers who include PANE in their classroom programmes were asked about the contents included in this type of activity in the different courses of the stage in which they teach. The results are shown in table 2 below.

Table 2

Percentage of work on PANE content in CSE.

See Table

Figure 1
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Activities per school year.

As the results show, the contents most present in the PANE block are orienteering, first aid, nature games and trekking, while at the other extreme are canyoning, via ferrata, caving and mountaineering.

If the percentage of contents worked on according to year of educational stage is observed, it can be perceived that the orientation where most work is done is in 3rd year CSE where it is worked on by more than half of the teachers (55.4%); first aid stands out in 4th year CSE and games in nature in 1st year CSE. The rest of the contents, within the percentage of work, are carried out in a similar way in all courses.

The Fisher test carried out on the relationship between the inclusion of PANE content in the classroom programme and the different socio-demographic variables surveyed only yielded significant results with respect to the presence or absence of content according to the ownership of the school (table 3).

Table 3

Ownership of the school.

See Table

Table 3 shows that, regardless of the ownership of the school, the percentage of teachers who carry out PANE within their classroom programme is much higher than that of teachers who do not include these activities in their programme. The most notable difference is found in public schools, where 94.6% confirm PANE in their programmes, compared to 5.4% who do not implement PANE at this stage. Thus, when the Fisher test was carried out, it was found that there is a significant relationship (.000) with regard to the ownership of the centre and the inclusion of PANE in the classroom programme, such that the more the centre tends towards privatisation, the less likely it is to include this type of activity.

On the other hand, employment status also showed significant differences through Fisher’s test (table 4).

Table 4

Employment status.

See Table

With regard to employment status, Table 4 shows that in general there is a wide difference between teachers who carry out PANE at secondary level and those who do not. Staff with a temporary posting stand out, with 100% of the responses indicating that they include PANE in their classroom programme. Similarly, if the percentage of teachers who include PANE as part of their sessions is observed, a wide difference among permanent staff is observed, with 44%; at the other extreme are substitutes in private/state-funded schools, with 0.7% of teachers including these activities in their sessions. Fisher’s test yielded significant results regarding the relationship between employment status and PANE programming, with a significance of .003, with those teachers with permanent or stable positions being those who programme these activities the most, and this decreases as their employment situation becomes more unstable.

Finally, teachers were asked about the reasons why they do not include PANE content in PE (figure 2).

Figure 2
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Reasons for not including PANE in PE.

As can be seen, the main reason for the exclusion of PANE is the lack of knowledge and/or training on how to carry them out (61.5%). Nonetheless, it is worth noting the response “I don’t see any use or benefits”, with 33.3%, as well as “I don’t like them”, with 25.6%.

Discussion

The aim of this research was to analyse the implementation of PANE in secondary school PE by updating the scientific literature. 

In this study, the high percentage of teachers who carry out activities in the natural environment as part of their PE sessions has been demonstrated, although a proportion of teachers who do not include them in their classroom programme continues to be seen, with their main explanation being a lack of training in these activities. Of the hypotheses put forward in relation to this point, H1 is confirmed, given that 91.1% of the teachers include PANE as part of their classroom programme, with a low percentage refusing to include these activities as part of their sessions. There are several reasons given by teachers for not carrying out activities in the natural environment in their PE sessions, among others, 61.5% of the total number of teachers who do not include PANE as part of their sessions (8.9%) state that they do not feel properly trained to be able to take responsibility for carrying out this type of activity; consequently, H2 is also partially confirmed.

The results show that the majority of PE teachers programme PANE, this result being higher than 90%. These results, at the national level, differ from those obtained by Peñarrubia Lozano et al. (2011) in the Community of Aragon, in which 77.86% reported carrying out some kind of activities in the natural environment, or those of Sáez-Padilla et al. (2017), in Andalusia, which produced results of around 70%. However, although a percentage of teachers who do not implement these activities in their PE sessions (8.6%) continues to be found, it can be observed that these data have improved considerably with respect to those reported by Peñarrubia Lozano et al. (2011) in their research, with results of 22.14% in Aragon. These results should be 100%, not least because legislation is prescriptive at national level.

With regard to the results obtained in relation to Hypothesis 2, the lack of training in PANE is the main reason why teachers do not include PANE in classroom programmes. On this point, this work coincides with the results of previous research which highlights the lack of training or knowledge, safety or risk problems, lack of installation or materials, among others (Dalmau-Torres et al., 2020; Sáez-Padilla et al., 2017). With regard to teacher training, it is worth highlighting its persistence in the studies that have been carried out on PANE, this lack of training being corroborated through the research carried out by Hurtado-Barroso et al. (2019) who, through their analysis of degrees in Physical Activity and Sport Sciences taught in Andalusian universities, concluded that only 9.9% of subjects related to PANE, a percentage that does not necessarily have to be the total number of subjects taken during the degree course, as it will depend on the choice of the student in the optional subjects, thus leaving only 3.8% of subjects taken from this block as an average in Andalusian universities. This confirms the need for broader training that balances the training of all the content blocks of PE that teachers have to teach throughout CSE.

In addition, one of the reasons given by some of the teachers for keeping PANE out of their programmes requires special attention. This is the response “I don’t see any use or benefits” (33.3%), given that there is research that exposes the physical and mental benefits of contact with nature and its results at the academic level in students, therefore in recent years different research has been carried out by taking PANE to schools in search of answers to the resulting benefits. These studies have concluded benefits in terms of satisfaction (Baena-Extremera & Granero-Gallegos, 2015), learning orientation (Baena-Extremera & Granero-Gallegos, 2013), motivation (Hortigüela et al., 2017), among other variables that affect students’ psychological and academic development, etc. This leads to the need for more technical training together with a bibliographical approach in the field of activities in the natural environment.

In relation to those teachers who put them into practice in their sessions, it can be seen that there are two variables that are related to greater programming of PANE on the part of the teachers. On the one hand, the ownership of the centre, as public centres have a higher rate of teachers who programme activities in the natural environment, and, on the other hand, the type of employment contract held by the teachers, with permanent staff being the ones who most incorporate these contents as part of their programme. It follows that H3 is fully confirmed. In relation to this, it has been observed that more and more teachers are incorporating these activities as part of their classroom programme. These data are consistent with those obtained by Dalmau-Torres et al. (2020), whose research confirmed that teachers in public schools were more likely to include PANE as part of their PE sessions. The reasons that may explain these results are diverse, ranging from greater ease of transferring pupils to natural areas to a greater commitment to educational law as they are dependent on the Regional Ministry of Education. In this respect, it would be interesting to carry out a study that could respond to this situation and help to ensure that this commitment is the same in all schools.

In relation to H4, it has been observed that, in spite of the progress made in the incorporation of PANE, the activities to which most sessions are devoted in this block of contents are first aid, hiking, orienteering and games in nature, data that are in line with previous research carried out by Granero-Gallegos et al. (2010), Hurtado-Barroso et al. (2019), among others. This gives an insight into how little progress has been made in this area and how much remains to be done. The reasons why these results may be produced could be due to the extensive didactic bibliography on these contents or the ease of practice within the school. However, it should be noted that in recent years there have been numerous publications in books and articles on the less frequently taught content in PANE PE, so it will be necessary to observe whether these publications have changed the trend in a few years’ time. An example where teachers can be trained for free would be the www.outdoorpeactivities.com, database, where everything published on these contents in Spanish journals is collected, including the contents less addressed by teachers. For these reasons, H4 is fully confirmed.

Conclusions

By way of conclusion, the results obtained in this study analyse the current situation in Spain in secondary schools with regard to the development of activities in the natural environment as part of PE, at national level.

It is worth highlighting the increase in the number of teachers who consider PANE as part of their classroom programme, with the contents of orienteering, hiking, first aid and games in nature being the most frequently taught. Despite this, there are still a significant number of PE teachers who disregard this type of activity in their programmes. There are different reasons for this response. However, lack of training continues to be one of the main reasons why PE teachers do not include PANE in their sessions. With an educational law that incorporates a block of content dedicated to activities in the natural environment, it is time to rethink the hours of training offered within the PAASS degree, as well as the continuous training of teachers through teacher training centres, following the recommendations of Granero-Gallegos and Baena-Extremera (2014). The administrations themselves should find the best solution to help teachers feel the same confidence to carry out these activities in the natural environment as in other blocks of content. It is the responsibility of the administration and the teacher to be properly trained in order to be able to respond correctly to the requirements set out in the curriculum legislation in terms of educational content.

On the other hand, it is interesting that in the group of teachers who programme these PANE there is a significant difference according to the ownership of the school, as well as the type of contract held by the teachers. Permanent staff in public institutions are the most involved with this content. 

With regard to the contents included in this block, and despite the wide range of innovative possibilities it offers, teachers are still sticking to the same range of activities: hiking, orienteering, games in nature and first aid. This leads to monotony and boredom on the part of teachers and students and, as already expressed by Granero-Gallegos and Baena-Extremera (2014), it is necessary to overcome this situation by connecting with the students’ interests. It can be observed that there is still a lot of work to be done in this block of content in which, despite an increase in classroom programming, there is a lack of variety of activities.

As can be seen, despite the progress that has been made over the years, there is still much to be done within PANE. We believe that this article can be a starting point for understanding the current shortcomings of teachers in Spain and the needs for a better implementation of this block of content within PE.

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See Full Size Appendix – Teaching questionnaire

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ISSN: 2014-0983

Received: August 1, 2022

Accepted: December 12, 2022

Published: July 1, 2023