Sports, essential cog in kids' education

India’s performance at the Rio Olympics, where we won only two medals, ignited a flurry of debate. The discussion has centred on the importance of sport and the uncertain state of Indian sports on the international stage.

When we have a nation full of young and ambitious citizens, why can’t we compete with the world in sports more effectively? The answer is neither easy nor straightforward. At one level, India needs structural change, at another we must take sports into our classrooms from the moment a child enters the education system.

The ethos of sports needs to be inseparably woven into education. An education without sports is merely academic in nature. The choppy waters that separate the two ends of this thread and lack of parental support have kept India from active participation in sports.

A survey conducted by Dr Samir Parikh from Fortis Healthcare found that 75% of adults feel sports can interfere with education. Another 69% believe that children who play sports do not perform well in academics. Such perceptions create roadblocks for proliferation of sports in the country. A shift in attitude is necessary.

Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel has constituted an Olympic task force that includes Abhinav Bindra and Pullela Gopichand. The duo has a fine understanding of the intricacies of child development, sport and education. One can only hope that the task force will take a ground up approach to determine the root causes and drive the implementation of suitable long-term measures to Olympic-ready talent in India.

It is time for the country to embrace sport with renewed passion. Sports has a wonderful way of teaching us the value of self discipline, teamwork, and ultimately essential skills of perseverance. These are traits that are vital for our children for their education and lives. However, we need substantial investments at the grassroots level and a broad effort to integrate sports and fitness into a child’s journey through school.

Nutrition is key to the development of children and a vital element in attaining optimal athletic performance. A Unicef report said that 20% of our children below the age of five are severely malnourished. We must fortify their learning and development, and turn our focus on diet, to shape a healthy mind and body.

The induction of sports in school curriculum promises the nation several strategic benefits. Indulgence in sport deepens learning amongst our children. Sport offers the right avenues to help our children apply values that are taught in classrooms.
However, according to government data, only 57% of schools in our country have a playground. This is worrying as we look to build a culture of sports and fitness in the country.

Ideal setting

India’s demographic spread and socio-economic conditions demand a revolution of sorts to harness its energy. India needs to get more children into schools and sports can encourage them to engage with the education system better. A playground provides an ideal setting to bring together children, parents, teachers, and the society to build a healthier nation.

An organised framework of learning that combines academic skills with physical activity will help shape a bright future for our children. We need to allow a free-flowing environment for our children where they can thrive both intellectually and physically. Our education system needs to reward physical accomplishment like it does with mathematics, sciences, and history.

A number of initiatives have already been launched to help encourage children to take up sports in India. Scholarship programmes for young athletes covering training costs, travel and stay have been launched. Mizoram and Jharkhand, for instance, are seeing tremendous investments at the grassroots.

Almost 10,000 children from marginalised communities are being engaged through sports such as football and hockey. In order to address nutritional needs during the formative stages of child development, a collaborative effort is being made with a large private firm. The partnership is conducting research to develop an affordable solution to bridge the gap in protein and micronutrients.

A meaningful strategy and sustained action are required to help draw children into sports. A shift in societal mindset and parental encouragement are much-needed. We must work harder to ensure that we provide enough opportunities for our children to engage in multiple sports during their formative years. The time to act and open that door of opportunity for our children is now.

(The writer is Head (Sports), Tata Trusts)
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