Exploring #PhysEd in India: Part of the 2021 Series

Global Perspectives


This blog series seeks to explore how Physical Education is designed and practiced in countries around the world. The intention is to give insight and hopefully inspiration to help improve physical education for all young people, both now and for the future.

If you have insight from a country we have not yet covered, then we would love to hear from you, please get in touch.

UNESCO published its ‘Quality Physical Education’ (QPE) guidelines for policymakers back in 2017. It includes a great video clip and infographic identifying some of the wide range of benefits of QPE and the following extract reminding us that PE is not just a nice to have in education, it is a human right for all children and young people!

“Every human being has a fundamental right of access to physical education and sport, which are essential for the full development of his personality. The freedom to develop physical, intellectual and moral powers through physical education and sport must be guaranteed both within the educational system and in other aspects of social life.”

The UNESCO Charter of Physical Education and Sport (1978)

Exploring Physical Education in India


In Context

In ancient times, India had the Gurukula system of education in which anyone who wished to study went to a teacher’s (Guru) house and requested to be taught. The modern school system was brought to India, including the English language, originally by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 1830s.  The current population of 1.39 billion spread over 28 states and 8 Union territories are  studying in over 1.49 million schools (Government + Aided + Private) with a literacy rate of more than 74%.

The concept of a National System of Education implies that, up to a given level, all students, irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex, have access to education of a comparable quality. To achieve this, the Government initiates appropriately funded programmes. The National System of Education envisages a common educational structure. The 1 + 2 + 3 structure has now been accepted in all parts of the country. Department of school education and literacy explain this system as elementary education from standard 1-8, secondary education from 9-10 and 11-12 stated as Higher secondary education.  Pre-primary school education in India is not a fundamental right and is divided into two levels – Lower KG (for children between 3 – 4 years) and Upper KG (for children between 4 – 5 years). The system of kindergarten is mostly adopted by the private schools.

To better understand the categorisation of schools, each state in the country has its own Department of Education that runs its own school system with its own textbooks and evaluation system. The curriculum, pedagogy and evaluation method are largely decided by the State Council of Education, Research and Training (SCERT) in the state, following the national guidelines prescribed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Each state has four kinds of schools that follow the state curriculum. The government runs its own schools in land and buildings owned by the government and paying the staff from its own resources. These are generally known as government schools. Then there are privately owned schools with their own land and buildings. Such schools mostly cater to the urban middle class families. The third kind consists of schools that are provided grant-in-aid by the government, though the school was started by a private agency in their own land and buildings. The grant-in-aid is meant to help reduce the fees and make it possible for poor families to send their children. The fourth category would be very expensive private schools which normally have fabulous infrastructure, low student-teacher ratio. Many of them have teachers from abroad teaching Cambridge IGCSE curriculum (CIE) and the International Baccalaureate (IB) or other similar foreign curriculums.

The syllabus or the content of one board differs from another but the basic structure of educational process remains the same. There are more than 15 education boards across the country. While some of them are regional, the more interesting ones are the NCERT, which is an apex resource organization set up by the Government of India, to assist and advise the Central and State Governments on academic matters related to school education, and the State Government Boards, Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). This is the main governing body of education system in India having  more than 21000 schools affiliated to it. Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and Cambridge International Examinations & International Baccalaureate (CIE and IB) offer international qualifications to students.

Physical Education Evolution in India 

India is a democratic country, and the Government of India set out to improve the status of physical education, which had initially been influenced by British policies. In the current situation, understanding the need and importance of Physical Education in the country has influenced the Government to set up many physical education colleges and universities in different parts of the country. There has been a conscious effort by the authorities to raise the standard of the subject matter.

In Policy

Institutional Development in India

NCERT, under the direct guidance of the Ministry of Education (MOE), are the apex body for designing and deciding the National Curriculum Framework, and they have developed progressive and realistic reforms in the field of Physical Education over last 15 years. They released the guidelines for schools for implementing health based activities for grade I-X  or advising boards in the country for mainstreaming Health & Physical Education for grade IX-XII. NCERT released the revised syllabus for HPE for grade I-X in the year 2005.


To provide the required theoretical and practical inputs in order to provide an integrated and holistic understanding and developing positive attitudes, values, skills and behaviour related to health and physical education at the primary, secondary and senior secondary levels.

Special objectives:

  1. To help children know and accept individual and collective responsibility for healthy living at home, school and in the community.
  2. To help children know their health status, identify health problems and be informed for taking appropriate remedial measures.
  3. To create awareness among children about rules of safety in appropriate hazardous situations to avoid accidents and injuries. To acquaint them with first-aid measures about common sickness and injuries.
  4. To help children learn correct postural habits in standing, walking, running, sitting and other basic movements so as to avoid postural defects and physical deformities.
  5. To help children improve their neuromuscular coordination through participation in a variety of physical activities in order to physical fitness.
  6. To help children strive for excellence in games and sports.
  7. To provide skills for dealing with psycho-social issues in the school, home and the community
  8. To help children grow as responsible citizens by inculcating in them certain social and moral values through games, sports, N.C.C., Red Cross, Scouts & Guides etc.
  9. To inculcate values and skills in children in order to promote self-control, concentration, peace and relaxation to avoid the ill effects of stress, strain and fatigue of routine everyday life.
  10. To address the physical, psycho-social needs of differently abled children in an integrated fashion.

For effective implementation of the subject of Health and Physical Education, the committee identified several broad themes and these included:

  1. We and our environment
  2. Human Body; physical fitness and health
  3. Food and Nutrition
  4. Social Health and relationships with others
  5. Safety and Security
  6. Consumer Health; vocational and leadership aspects.

Each of these themes has been addressed in a progressive and spiral manner keeping in view the preparedness of the child’s level of development.

In Practice

PE in India is so fragmented in its provision that the suggested syllabus is not being followed or  implemented. In this densely populated country with varied demographics and differential understanding of the concepts developed by graduates coming out of universities, provision is very much determined by the previous experiences of the class teacher. Although well intentioned efforts have been made by some of boards and individuals to rethink and reinvent the HPE curricula for their respective schools, this has been a challenge with limited facilities, equipment and teacher capability. This has led to fragmented and inconsistent provision throughout the country.

In 2009 the Central Board of Secondary Education in collaboration with British Council and under the directives of Ministry, launched the new Physical Education Programme. The programme aimed at strengthening the delivery of the Physical Education in the primary school based on specially designed cards and sports equipment for the different age groups from classes 1 to 5. The CBSE produced a Physical Education Teacher Training Manual and a set of Physical Education Cards (PEC) for schools affiliated to CBSE. These Physical Education Cards were meant for teachers teaching at the primary level and were an effective tool for strengthening the transaction of Physical Education in schools. This program was adopted in the initial years and followed effectively across CBSE schools. PEC was also introduced for class 6-8 but did not get much success due to a growing influence from ‘free play culture’ in these grades.

Almost a decade later, in 2019, a decision was made by the NCERT and enforced by the primary board of the country CBSE with a focus of mainstreaming  Health & Physical Education by introducing one period of physical activity every day for Grades I-XII to prepare a child holistically to be a well-balanced individual in all walks of life. The primary focus was sports, games and outdoor activities. It was huge step towards future success keeping in mind the wellbeing of our future generations but unfortunately the decision was made without considering the personnel and infrastructure availability which led this program to fall flat and be restricted to paper.

Mainstreaming HPE in schools was introduced and provided a detailed structure with sample lesson plans for classes 9-12 but  did not specify anything for the lower grades where it required more detail and structure. The structure below shows the four compulsory strands for students to choose from which has expands into a wide range of options based on the infrastructure & personnel availability in school.

Distribution of marks for Internal assessment

These developments within the system should ideally have a made a difference in approaches to PE across all classes at school level, but unfortunately nothing concrete has been achieved since the implementation of the programs. They were not well thought and an opportunity for significant change was missed. NCERT in collaboration with CBSE made a sensible effort by constructing curriculum guidelines across PE at primary level i.e., class 1-5 which has generally been unstructured and has lacked the basic components which are essential at this age group. Teachers of PE are not trained to sufficient depth to be able to provide quality PE in the early years of education. Secondary level i.e., classes (Grades 6-10) see PE teachers focusing on teaching skill acquisition in certain sports based on the infrastructure available at the school and the activities they were trained in. Unfortunately, most of this training is goal oriented with a desired outcome of winning certain competitions a school level. Students who are above average in their physical competence and health and fitness are able to secure a place in the school teams which include not more than 10-15% of the school population. The other 85-90% either lose their interest in PE classes or consider it to be leisure time or choose academics options instead.

More recently the FIT INDIA Movement was launched on 29th August 2020 with a view to make fitness an integral part of daily lives for children in India. The mission of the Movement is to bring about behavioural changes and move towards a more physically active lifestyle. Towards achieving this mission, Fit India proposes to undertake various initiatives and conduct events to achieve the following objectives:

  • To promote fitness as easy, fun and free.
  • To spread awareness on fitness and various physical activities that promote fitness through focused campaigns.
  • To encourage indigenous sports.
  • To make fitness reach every school, college/university, panchayat/village, etc.
  • To create a platform for citizens of India to share information, drive awareness and encourage sharing of personal fitness stories

This movement have been one of the most effective drives in the country towards motivating people for taking fitness/physical activity in their day-to-day regime. But their objectives emphasise physical fitness assessment by measuring children using standards related fitness tests with the aim of encouraging individuals to achieve the expected standard at a particular age point. Talent identification is an inherent part of this process but unfortunately, there is a lack of focus on the holistic development of children through PE.

There are some schools in India who have taken the initiative and have used physical literacy as a focus for their physical education. In these schools, the focus has been the holistic development of each child, where an individual develops their motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding through engaging in a range of differentiated activities. Teachers provide carefully planned and balanced curricula which allows progressive learning experiences through a broad range of activities. Time is provided in each activity to develop the skills, understanding and attitudes that will hopefully lead the children to being active citizens for life. Significant work has been required to provide the teachers with an appreciation of new pedagogical approaches including varied teaching strategies, models and methods of charting progress (assessment). It is hoped that developments within these schools will be adopted more widely in India and that the teacher training institutions will also modify their programs accordingly to prepare the teachers of the future more effectively.

In Conclusion

As a developing country, where the literacy rate is less than 75% and whose total Olympic medal tally is less than what Michael Phelps of USA, it is still an aim of the Government to win more medals. However, in order to do this, there needs to be more attention paid to the health and wellbeing of the nation. The engagement of students in physical activity should be the priority and a high quality provision of PE, which includes competitive sport, will see the country improve not only its Olympic dreams but also a healthier nation. There is a significant gap in planning and implementation of policies around developing PE in the country although it is worth noting that last two decades were the most progressive decades for improving provision.  However, there are no national standards for teaching and learning PE in the country at school or college level. There is a significant difference between approaches in terms of planning, delivering and assessing the required teaching learning outcomes for PE both on students and practicing teachers. Creating an appropriate curriculum for the majority of the population would be a positive step forwards for India. A focus on developing physical literacy through PE in schools could provide the guidance that is required to meet the aim of a healthy and actively engaged population. Support and guidance for this process is essential.


  1. Practice is inconsistent throughout the country as teacher expertise, facilities and equipment can be very different.
  2. Teacher training at university does not fully prepare teachers to provide a range of teaching strategies to maximise the potential of all children.
  3. Historical teaching practices continue to prevail.

Suggestions for the future:

  • Centralised guidelines share by all boards should have common learning outcomes.
  • Physical literacy should provide a focus for the physical education curriculum.
  • Practicing teachers should be supported in developing their practice and provision.
  • Teaching and learning process should be outcome based with all the criterion in place which are assessed appropriately.
  • Teachers should be made aware of the wide range of teaching methodologies that can be used in school and they should not be medal oriented.
  • Investment in appropriate infrastructure and equipment should be available before placing policy in action, so that implementation is possible.

If you have a different perspective to that described above or would like to contribute to a similar blog on a different country, then we would love to hear from you. Please contact us.

About the authors

Ashish Kumar Rawat is Head of Department at The Heritage School, Rohini, India. @PLAshishRawat

Nigel Green is Chair of the IPLA and Consultant to the Heritage Schools in India. @nigelrgreen

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