From School Gymnastics to Physical Education
With the end of the First World War there began the great political and spiritual transformation of Austria from multinational monarchy to small democracy, a process which affected all areas of culture and society.
Within this development and in the context of educational reform came changes to school physical and gymnastic education. The outstanding characteristic of the reform of Austrian school gymnastics was the successful synthesis of the then distinctive and different ideas on movement into a single educational concept of physical exercise. The organisers of the new Austrian school gymnastics, Karl Gaulhofer and Margarete Streicher tested the product of contemporary thinking on movement against the standards of „Child-centred Education“ and of educational requirements. This integrative concept of school gymnastics found rapid recognition under the banner „Natural Gymnastics“.
At the beginning of the 1930's this development came to a standstill.
Fascist ideologies were leading to a militarisation of society and school gymnastics too had to contribute to this programme: a programme consisting of the marginalisation of sport, an unbalanced emphasis on results, a preference for toughening exercises, racially aligned German gymnastics and pre-military training.
The concept of „Natural Gymnastics“ was a product of the reconstruction of physical education at the end of World War 1. The concept was a source of an intellectual and theoretical form for physical education which was in many ways similar to the school gymnastics concept of the 1920's. Meaning, educational objectives, organisation and teaching methods retained their reformed pedagogical validity. The educational principal of child-centrality, the understanding that physical education is integral to education, the value of its inductive teaching methods (physical exercises) and the detachment from the record-seeking of sport outside school - all principles of Natural Gymnastics - also characterised the „form and concept of physical education“ at this time.
Between 1970 and 1990 there also took place in Austria the separation of sport from physical education. The social importance of sport, the use of leisure-time and the threat to health from lack of exercise were important arguments for the distinction of sport from physical education, for the development of sports principles as a theoretical basis for school sport teaching and for the inclusion of club sport disciplines in school sport practice. The sports concept of school teaching found the expression of its intention and its aspiration in its goal of "sporting empowerment". It contained the capacity for the recognition of the importance of sport to society and to the health of its members just as the acquisition of multidimensional motor ability in standard sports disciplines.
The future development of Austrian physical education will be characterised by the concepts of physical activity together with education in and the culture of physical activity. Already the new curricula for physical activities are neither sport curricula nor do they contain the traditional programme of physical education but rather they are based upon the five categories of physical activity which are at the core of the subject matter of both learning and practice.
Physical activities which are sporting, skillful, organised, health-oriented and rich in experience potential are the material starting points for the creation of objectives in an individually conceived exercise culture.
The physical education of the future will differ from contemporary sports education in a few aspects: through the educational principle of universal empathy it will once again reconcile human physical activity with nature and the environment. It will bring the rediscovery of regional diversity and counter international sport with local traditions of physical activity.
Further, it will value the experience of the activity higher than the result; it will steer the attention of those taking part in sport back towards themselves and their bodies and it will give priority to health and well-being and other effects of sport. In the physical education of the future the target will be the whole person and the whole world of physical activity will be the syllabus.