A space to play can produce champions


A space to play can produce champions

 India has followed the British system of school education for centuries. But, when Britain transformed the system in 1993 to introduce the National Curriculum in Physical Education, why have we lagged behind, wonders Vatsala Vedantam

A minister was heard remarking during a cricket match that the grounds were ideal for a shopping complex! His innocent comment reflects the government’s attitudes towards public play grounds — not only in this state, but in the entire country, where land is viewed as a place for building structures rather than spaces for young people to play.

Our streets also reflect the government’s indifference to our children’s need to play team games that help in their physical and mental development. Any city street in India — except perhaps in planned ones like Chandigarh — converts itself into a cricket field, a badminton court or a ground for kabbadi, depending on the season.

The young players dodge traffic and wait patiently for pedestrians to cross, while they bat, bowl or catch a makeshift cricket ball, while onlookers from neighbouring houses cheer them. I see this happy and sad scene every day in my own street. Happy because it shows the resilience of children who don’t wait for governments to cater to their needs. Sad because our educationists have not realised the importance of outdoor games and tournaments in a child’s total development.

Closed mind-sets

Parents think that they can overcome this deficiency by sending their children to costly schools. They are sadly mistaken.

Even school managements have not attached much importance to open spaces for children to play. Many private schools are built on every inch of land available, with multistoried classrooms to accommodate more and more pupils who generate money for the owners. Some of the “leading” schools in this very city conveniently make use of nearby public parks as their playgrounds.

How they get their NOCs (No Objection Certificates) or state recognition for these institutions is another story altogether. One can see such institutions in crowded residential areas where children are admitted from the nursery to kindergarten to primary to higher secondary classes without qualms.

The students literally step from a sidewalk into a classroom, with no space for a break — leave alone for sports and games. They are dropped off and picked up by their parents or guardians right from their classrooms where they spend seven to eight hours every working day. These are expensive private schools where fees are exorbitant and admissions hard to obtain. Compared to them, many government or municipal schools are better off with their huge grounds and spaces for their pupils to play and relax.

Everybody’s responsibility

Since outdoor activities have declined badly in schools, parents have turned to other places like gyms, clubs and recreation centres where their kids can run, jog, swim and work out in other ways. But, how many parents have access to these facilities? It is the responsibility of schools to make sure that academics go hand-in-hand with outdoor activities. The State is equally responsible to ensure that their schools strictly adhere to the norms laid out in the grant-in-aid code.

For that matter, even unaided schools and junior colleges are bound by the same rules. We do have well established private institutions which have provided excellent games and sports facilities, including swimming pools. Many of their pupils have become outstanding sportspersons and won laurels for the country. The Sri Ramakrishna Vidyashala in Mysore and the St Josephs Indian High School in Bangalore immediately come to mind as two fine examples in this regard.

India has followed the British system of school education for centuries. But when Britain transformed the system in 1993 to introduce the National Curriculum in Physical education, why have we lagged behind?  It was a sweeping reform worthy of emulation.

Consisting of six activities that include team games, gymnastics, athletics, swimming, dancing and outdoor education, the curriculum is designed to help pupils learn the basic skills in each in order to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. Physical Education (PE) is compulsory for students up to the age of eleven in lower primary schools, after which they can choose any four activities which are tapered to two when they reach high school. Thus, you will find seven-year-old students learn basic skills while performing simple activities like physical exercises.

By the time they are eleven years old, they can swim unaided with lessons in water safety. They can also perform complex movements in group dancing and gymnastics.  By age 14, these students have learnt how to outwit opponents in organised games and can participate in events like running and performing in group activities. The physical education curriculum is designed not so much to create a nation of athletes, but to encourage a healthy lifestyle where book learning goes hand in hand with physical activities. Britain’s national curriculum makes it essential for all schools to provide facilities and amenities necessary for such all round learning experiences.

Make it mandatory

If our education policy makes physical education a mandatory subject in all schools, then it becomes inevitable for schools to have large and well equipped playgrounds. The State should make it necessary for every educational institution to provide matching empty spaces for every classroom that is built.

These spaces could be utilised as public playgrounds after school hours. Countries that boast of public tennis courts, swimming pools, and gymnasiums have produced great sportspersons in the world. It is sad that in a country like India, that boasts of high achievers in every field of sport, has failed its new generation of such facilities. How many cities here can boast of playgrounds and sports arenas that are free and open to young people to play games of their choice?

We have the talent that even one floodlit indoor stadium can produce a world champion. But the political will to generate more such champions is sadly lacking. Instead of grabbing land to clutter cities with brick and mortar, we need to create more spaces for our future sports stars and athletes. Schools and colleges too can help in this programme by throwing open their grounds when they are not in use. Creating space is a social endeavour that can reap rich results.

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