It is a well known fact that in many of our small Caribbean societies, St Vincent and the Grenadines being no exception, there is a view that engagement in physical activity is tantamount to loss of instructional time for the students and teachers. This is a very unfortunate stance but is nonetheless reflective of a lack of understanding of and appreciation for the importance of physical literacy.
The view is a narrow-minded one and should be cast aside in the interest of the general health and well being of society.
In a previous Column we articulated the importance of physical literacy. This is the foundation in respect of the fundamentals of physical activity in much the same way that we do numeracy and literacy in respect of introducing children to mathematics and reading.
There is not yet a sufficient understanding of physical literacy as a concept in most Caribbean countries. Here the term is hardly recognised. For many, the term, physical literacy, has only recently become known as we progress through the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) project being facilitated by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee.
Until such time as physical literacy becomes acceptable as integral to the holistic development of the individual it would not feature in the education planning in this country.
Our leaders in education must ensure that physical literacy is mentioned in the same breath as numeracy and literacy.
Education has to do with the holistic development of the individual. In all aspects the education system attempts to facilitate a balanced approach in the execution of its mandate.
It is unfortunate, however, that many educators have forgotten the mandate of education and have over-emphasised the straight academic stream at the expense of the other important aspects of human development. In taking this approach the education system disparagingly belittles the liberal arts – dance, music, drama, as well as disciplines associated with manual work – the vocational subjects such as carpentry, metal work, refrigeration and mechanics.
Parents, spurred on by the educators, cajoled their children to focus on academics.
Students, like their parents, were led to believe that to focus on what were considered non-academic subjects meant that they were less intelligent and that their future was a rather insecure one. They could only look forward to low status and low paying jobs for the rest of their lives.
In many respects therefore, physical education and sport were treated much like the other non-academic subjects. Only students who were not academic found themselves relegated to playing sport.
PE and Sport
Physical education was hardly considered as being important. Generally, whilst the literature showed otherwise the educators here as in much of the Caribbean, continued to hold fast to the belief that physical activity and sport were mere past-times that did little for the serious student.
Even as the rest of the world moved to work with the United Nations in recognising the value of physical literacy and the consequent necessity of engaging children and indeed all of society in physical activity, St Vincent and the Grenadines lagged behind.
It was not until the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) placed physical education on its listing of examinable subjects that St Vincent and the Grenadines followed suit and placed it at the secondary school level.
It did not seem to bother anyone that we started at the top rather than at the fundamentals until national sports associations clamoured for change.
Physical education is defined as “a planned sequential… standards-based program of curricula and instruction designed to develop motor skills, knowledge, and behaviors of healthy active living, physical fitness, sportsmanship, self-efficacy, and emotional intelligence.” As a school subject, physical education is focused on teaching school-aged children the science and methods of physically active, healthful living. It is an avenue for engaging in developmentally appropriate physical activities designed for children to develop their fitness, gross motor skills, and health”.
Schools have for a very long time been involved in sport competitions. These competitions have taken place in schools and between schools.
The reality is that in the majority of cases the schools seek to select students already possessive of a certain measure of skill competency. There is no attempt at teaching the skill to the students. Instead, the idea seems to be to enhance the skills of those who already possess some aptitude. This also meant that those students who may well have had a desire to learn a sport are never given the opportunity to do so.
The absence of physical education at the pre-school and primary school levels have ensured that physical activity and sport remain for those who have a certain skill competency and an opportunity to play. Those who have not shown an aptitude for academia are also shuttled to sport as an alternative means of occupying their time.
The idea that physical activity had something to do with the overall health and well-being of the child never really hit home, even though in their teacher training and degree programmes many educators had to read, understand and participate in such endeavours.
The fashionable thing to do was to encourage the children to adopt a stance that physical activity was tantamount to play and play was left to outside of the classroom, in the yard or playing field.
Even when schools here were calling on parents to provide specific clothing for play the emphasis was on just that, simply engaging in un-coordinated and unstructured activity of a recreational nature. There was no attempt at linking the activity to their education and even less to health and wellness.
Kohl and Cook have noted:
“Because it is guaranteed to reach virtually all children, physical education is the only sure opportunity for nearly all school-age children to access health-enhancing physical activities.
“High-quality physical education programs are characterized by (1) instruction by certified physical education teachers, (2) a minimum of 150 minutes per week (30 minutes per day) for children in elementary schools and 225 minutes per week (45 minutes per day) for students in middle and high schools, and (3) tangible standards for student achievement and for high school graduation.
“Students are more physically active on days on which they have physical education”.
This information should be familiar to all educators here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The issue is whether or not they make use of this information to enhance the quality of their students in the process of making them healthy and productive Vincentian citizens.
The changing times and the location of physical literacy in the educational matrix have not yet taken hold in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The engagement in school sports is encouraged but only in a limited way. The exceptional student whose parents are prepared to recognise their athletic potential is held high by the institution.
While national sports associations have long since been clamouring for a balance between academia and physical activity and sport the educators have been lamenting the loss of instructional time. They have failed to emerge outside of the box.
Any serious educator would engage in appropriate research to identify the immense benefits of a happy balance between physical activity and scholarship. The one does not necessarily detract from the other.
We are at a stage where educators lament the fact that some A students allow themselves to spend time training in preparation for sport competition.
Importantly, some of our educators also lament the fact that coaches and administrators seek time off to attend training programmes at home and abroad and also to represent the country as part of the management of teams.
This is all very unfortunate.
The time has obviously come for our education system to keep pace with global development in the field and this means, inevitably locating physical literacy at the core of the education programme in all of our educational institutions. Only then would society wake up to the importance of healthy living.