According to the editorial of The News dated 19th Jan 2019, the Punjab Minister for School Education Dr Murad Raas has put forward the idea of regulating physical activity in all government schools of the province. Dr Murad, who got his education from Aitchison College Lahore and later his PhD from Southern California, appears to head in the right direction with his short-, mid- and long-term strategies to reform government schools under 2023 plan of revamping the outdated education system.
As per the available global comparative estimates, 23% of adults and 81% of adolescents (aged 11-17 years) don’t meet the WHO global recommendations on physical activity for health. This global physical inactivity has cost $ 54 billion in direct healthcare. In addition, $ 14 billion has been lost because of consequent lack of productivity.
In a country like Pakistan where heart diseases, diabetes and different types of cancers are increasing at an alarming speed there is a need to understand and implement the physical activity culture through a system-based approach with a strategic combination of upstream policy actions aimed at improving the social, economic and environmental factors combined with downstream individually-focused approaches.
The Punjab government has rightly identified the root cause of deteriorating sports culture in the country, where organised sports in education institutions are negligible.
The 2016 Bangkok declaration of achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) states that increasing physical education in education institutions and organising community-based sport-for-all activities will directly contribute to SDG-3 of good health and wellbeing whereas SDGs 4.1 and 4.2 of quality education are directly related with sports activities in education institutions.
As per SDG 4.1 the governments have to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. The national governments can only achieve this target through introducing quality physical education in schools. It has been observed quantitatively that increased physical activity participation in children can lead to greater ability to concentrate and improve cognitive function, thereby resulting in better academic outcomes.
The 4.2 SDG states that all girls and boys should have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education, so that they are ready for primary education and beyond. This SDG is also achievable through a well-meaning physical activity programme in schools that results in developing motor skills and positive attitudes and habits among the children.
High dropout rates in primary schools of Punjab and other provinces is a big challenge. Poverty and culture of corporeal punishment in rural areas are major causes of increased dropout rates. The child feels unprotected and education is not a joyful experience for him or her. It has been universally experienced that introduction of organised sports helps in combatting corporeal punishment, brings change in behaviours of both students and teachers and helps in reducing dropout rates.
Sports in education institution are the basic building block in developing a comprehensive sports culture in any country. Without sports no education is considered quality education. Introducing two physical education classes a week may help in breaking the inertia but the success of Dr Murad and his team vision will hinge on the programme and system they offer in the field of sports and physical education.
The physical education curriculum in Pakistan is outdated and so is the capacity of physical education teachers. Physical education is now largely replaced by sports education programmes which are holistic in nature and suitable for achievement of MDGs. From early 1960 to 2018 many new physical education and sports education programmes like American Sports Education (ASEP) and Siedentop Sports Education programme of Canada have come up successfully. These programmes offer teachers training as well as a systems approach for developing physical literacy at all levels in education institutions.
The government of Punjab can learn from recently concluded Khelo India Youth Games, held in Maharashtra, formerly known as Khelo India School Games, a multi-disciplinary annual games event, organised to identify and nurture sports talent in education institutions of India. Each year the government of India gives sports scholarship of Rs 500,000/- to best 1000 budding sportspersons.
Our challenge is much larger in nature maybe because we are cash starved; however I am of the opinion that money is not the answer to all problems. As Paul Kennedy in his famous book Preparing for the 21st Century said, “It is unlikely that money will solve every difficulty or challenge, nevertheless, it is obvious that societies which possess technical and educational resources & cultural solidarity are better positioned for next century”.
We need to build a nation and provide our future generations with a secure future. This may be our last chance and any step in wrong direction will sink us further in despair and despondency.
The parents must understand that physical education is as important a subject as Maths or Physics. The parents must show concern about the capacity and knowledge of the instructor who will handle his or her child physically. They should regularly visit the school sports activities and participate along with their children, thus developing them into active and healthy youngsters.
The government of Punjab is thinking in right direction to revive sports in education institutions but they must avoid packing old wine in new bottles. The most immediate and prudent step would be to form a Physical & Sports Education Development Cell (PSEDC) within the Ministry of School Education which should carefully review the existing Physical Education Syllabus, propose amendments and undertake capacity building programmes of physical education teachers in Punjab.