“This project will shatter boundaries and create a collective consciousness about physical literacy” Interview with Dean Dudley, Macquarie University
Dean Dudley from Macquarie University in Australia is one of the world’s leading experts in physical literacy, and was part of developing a framework of the concept that is now used in Australia, New Zealand and several Pacific islands. Along the way he has become an advisor to both the education (Department of Education in New South Wales) and sport sectors (Sport Australia), prompting each to re-think their approaches to the school curriculum and how grassroots participation impacts elite sport.
Dudley (pictured above, right) is a partner of ISCA’s new Erasmus+ Sport project Physical Literacy for Life, and is looking forward to this collaboration extending the concept across Europe through education, sport and health stakeholders. The challenge of establishing a common understanding of the concept may not seem as difficult as it looks, he ponders, and language may actually be an easy barrier to overcome when it comes to describing the lifelong experience of movement.
“This project, and what it stands for, seeks to basically shatter barriers and start understanding that Europeans have a collective consciousness around movement and a value for it,” he says.
ISCA spoke to Dean Dudley at the Physical Literacy for Life kick-off meeting in Copenhagen.
What is physical literacy and how can it be distinguished from physical education and physical activity?
Dean Dudley: Physical activity, and movement more broadly, is the means by which we learn physical literacy. Physical literacy is very much built around how humans learn through movement and that experience. And that’s not just how to move, but learning how to interact with others, and it’s how we learn to think differently and how we learn to flourish in our human life.
Essentially, physical education is one of the many interventions that society has implemented to try to develop physical literacy in their population. It almost entirely targets children, whereas physical literacy is how we learn across our entire life course, from the moment we are born until we die.
So it’s a much larger concept, and has more institutions and more aspects of our society that play a role. So where physical education is almost entirely the responsibility of the education sector, physical literacy has influences from sport, from community to public health, from recreation, from active transport, from sustainable living. It’s a much bigger idea about our learned movement and physical activity experience.
Why do you think it’s important for this concept to become more widely recognised?
Dean Dudley: What we’ve realised is that when we try to shift the movement patterns and the health-promoting activity patterns of our populations, when we do it in a piecemeal way where public health takes a certain responsibility and the education sector takes a certain responsibility, we actually start to get in each other’s way and we become very “siloed” and protectionist of our knowledge. Physical literacy, even in the short time – probably in the last 10 years – that it’s gained increased traction, we’re starting to break down those walls and we’re starting to ensure that institutions and researchers from a whole range of institutions can collaborate and find common ground and get the most advocacy for the time they spend on those projects.
How did you get involved in establishing the Australian Physical Literacy Framework and working on this specifically in Australia?
Dean Dudley: I started off doing a lot of work in the department of education in New South Wales, in trying to re-orientate their curriculum message. I was trying to provide a scaffold or a concept over the top that people could work towards and see links where they were trying to deal with different aspects of the curriculum.
That manifested into Sport Australia approaching myself and my other two lead researchers, Lisa Barnett (Deakin University) and Richard Keegan (University of Canberra). We’re all from different fields using very different methodologies, but essentially wanting the same thing – a more active, enthusiastic engaged population around sport and movement.
That’s the message Sport Australia decided they needed to give, drawing from a smaller base of participants, trying to drive elite sport, but essentially finding that the participants they needed to draw on were a shrinking base. So the conversation was turned on its head – how do we increase the footprint of people who are active and engaging in sport by thinking of transferring across different types of activities across their life course as a policy imperative? Shifting it from elite talent identification to broad community engagement, not just as a spectator, but as officials, and as administrators, and more importantly as participants in the activities.
So you could say that Australia and other Anglo-Saxon countries are frontrunners in this space. What do you think it will take to translate this concept to other countries and for it to gain momentum there?
Dean Dudley: I think because of the wording it has taken on a kind of Anglo-Saxon imperative, but I think the concepts are universal. So when we’re talking about physical literacy being the first literacy that all humans, and probably all mammals for that matter, engage in, that’s universal regardless of ethnicity or background.
The real issue in multilingual communities, especially as we have here in Europe, is getting past the lexicon and really getting to the concept. You know, do we value learning? There wouldn’t be a society on the planet that doesn’t do that. Do we value movement in all its forms? There wouldn’t be a society that doesn’t value that. Is there going to be a recognition that multi-fields and disciplines of knowledge, whether it be history, sociology, psychology, physiology – do all these people have a stake in the game? Absolutely! So although it may have a different language attached to it, I think the idea will remain resilient.
How do you see the potential of this project and what it can contribute to the concept moving forward?
Dean Dudley: The very fact that we’ve got 11 different partners from all over Europe engaged in this project automatically speaks about the currency that it’s gaining within individual countries and how there is a real appetite to share that knowledge. Even being in this room for the last 24 hours I see that there are people from Denmark and Germany and Portugal and Spain that are grappling with the same problems and the same issues. And probably, historically, scientifically and politically, our language and our borders have gotten into the way of collaborating on this knowledge.
This project, and what it stands for, seeks to basically shatter those barriers and start understanding that Europeans have a collective consciousness around movement and a value for it. I mean, the European Union are the leaders in terms of promoting a more sustainable world for us to live in. This will be a vital piece in that puzzle to achieving those 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations.
The Physical Literacy for Life project is co-funded by the EU's Erasmus+ programme under Collaborative Partnerships in the Field of Sport.
By Rachel Payne, ISCA