Making the most of schools’ competitions

IMG_0320_cropWe are into the first term of the new academic year, 2014/5 and the annual inter schools’ competitions are set to commence.
For as far back as Vincentians can remember we have been having annual inter schools’ sports competitions. It is nonetheless of much concern whether we are clear as to why we have these competitions and are they meeting their objectives.
In 2010 the Ministry of Education established its official National Schools Sports Policy which was prepared by the Schools Games Committee (SGC), headed by the Deputy Chief Education Officer, Beverly Neptune. In the introduction to the policy Neptune noted… Over the years, there has been a paradigm shift in School Sports and Physical Education Programme across nations. This shift is due to policy decisions taken by many governments to make P.E. and Sports an integral part of the curriculum offerings at the varying levels of the school system. In fact, the research suggests that the curriculum for every child’s preschool through secondary experience should include the opportunity to participate in quality physical education programmes and other health enhancing physical activity.
Importantly, Neptune added… In this regard, our P.E. and Sports programmes are geared towards contributing significantly to the holistic development of our young people and focus on students’ participation in a wide range of independent and team activities, as articulated in our National Curriculum and Assessment Framework (2005).
The Ministry of Education then appears clear as to the role that it wishes physical education and sport to play in the life of the child as school. The interest is in the fashioning of the whole individual.
Education speaks to the rounded development of the child and so the Ministry of Education’s Schools Sports Policy articulates this very succinctly. As a result we ought not to be surprised that Neptune’s Introduction to the policy stated… The Ministry of Educations is therefore committed to supporting a culture of P.E. and Sports, which incorporated the values of sportsmanship, discipline, perseverance, teamwork, self-confidence and fair play.
Physical Education
In previous Columns this author has chided the Ministry of Education for taking so long to establish and implement the foregoing policy since it does appear that had the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) not made physical education and sport an examinable subject, we may never have seen any move towards ensuring that we have designated physical education teachers in the classroom at the secondary school level.
We are still lagging behind.
We have not really ensured that physical education and sport as a single subject is compulsory at the secondary school since while it is on the curriculum and the schools’ time table there are many students who find creative ways to avoid getting involved.
We have also failed to make physical education and sport compulsory at the pre school and primary school levels. These are the foundation stages and if we are indeed committed to wellness and to the genuinely holistic development of the individual the process begins in the home followed by the pre school and elementary levels.
It is futile to believe that we can realistically attract students to the twin discipline of physical education and sport if we introduce the students to it at the secondary school level. The small numbers of students that select the discipline for CXC and go no further evidences the truth of this. Fewer still have bothered to consider the extensive and growing range of career options that the discipline now offers.
Policies can always be established but the full implementation is often an issue. This is the case with the Schools Sports Policy.
There has to be a concerted effort made to insist on getting physical education and sport permanently established at the pre school and primary school levels. This would require a change of mind-set amongst educators, especially curriculum developers and principals as well as parents.
We have to go well beyond thinking of physical education and sport as examinable subjects but as critical to the introduction of life skills to the individual to become a better person and contributor to national development.
Traditionally football and netball are the competitions in which secondary schools engage in the first term of the academic year. One would have expected that this would also be the period for engaging the primary schools in the same competitions but that does not happen. There is more than twice the number of primary schools as there are secondary schools and this has numerous implications.
The netball and football sub committees of the Schools Games Committee last academic year introduced the concept of a festival for the primary schools as a means of getting some form of competition going for the students at this level.
The second term usually see competitions in secondary schools’ cricket and athletics as well as Volleyball.
The third term is usually bare given the focus on preparing students for their final/promotional exams.
Basketball has been on and off the programme since there have been organisational problems at the level of the national association.
Table Tennis was once a fixture on the annual secondary schools programme but dropped off for a few years and now seems set for a comeback in the current academic year.
Athletics seems the one sport that has a full competition at both the primary and secondary school level in any given academic year. It is also the one sport for which individual schools at both levels – primary and secondary – seek to organise internal competitions.
The SGC has encouraged the organisation of sport competitions amongst schools and has agreed the establishment of sub committees headed by the respective national associations and incorporating the primary stakeholders – government ministries (Education, Sport, Health & Wellness and Security), Head Teachers and Principals’ Associations, National Sports Council and Education Media Unit, with an option to co-opt pertinent expertise to facilitate adequate planning, marketing and execution.
At the same time however the Ministry of Education has expressed concern about the number of sport competitions being added to its annual calendar, often citing anxiety over loss of instructional time by the students involved.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines there needs to be greater attention paid to getting this right and establishing the competitions as permanent institutions. In this regard it is important that the sub committees consider creative formats that can at once appeal to the students and attract spectators and supporters.
International sport federations (IF) are increasingly seeking innovative approaches to their respective sports to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing world where technology drives and captivates the interests of our youth.
There is no reason why we have to appear to be merely traipsing along behind what the rest of the world is doing in terms of sport competitions and attendant activities offered to our students.
The lead proposed by both netball and football can be expanded by the two sub committees in tandem with their respective national governing bodies and be encouraging examples for the other sports.
Today’s youths are anxious for innovation in all areas of life, sport included. This is the time to engage in aggressive research into the recesses of our creative genius to unearth attractive, appealing viable options that may even challenge all that we have come to accept as traditional and normative.
The most consistent aspect of life is change.
We can create our own festivals and other options that may prove to be so successful that they may attract the attention of the IFs. We are a resourceful people here in St Vincent and the Grenadines and must not sell ourselves short in terms of our capacity to be innovative in sport or in any other field of endeavour for that matter.
Instructional time
Much has been said about the loss of instructional time of students involved in the annual sport competitions. This is something that needs to be addressed here.
Throughout any given academic year there are countless activities for students in the different academic disciplines. Interestingly no one ever makes mention of such involvement competing with their instructional time. This has to do with the traditional perception of academic subjects and competitions on them as aiding the student’s overall academic performance.
Despite the inclusion of physical education and sport as examinable subjects at both the CXC and CAPE levels participation in the attendant activities by students is still perceived as competing with instructional time. This means that the educators have not yet accepted the twin discipline of physical education and sport as a subject that has earned the right to be treated as any other subject on the school’s programme.
The truth is that the education system is itself decidedly ambivalent in respect of the role of physical education and sport as integral to the education process that has as its ultimate goal the holistic development of the individual. This therefore makes a mockery of the Schools Sports Policy and renders it is little or no value beyond the cost of the paper on which it is written. It is really shooting ourselves in the foot while being fully conscious of the dangers that poses to our individual and collective well being.
Until such time as we accept that we are being more than a little duplicitous we would not be able to have parents encouraging their children to see physical education and sport as part of their education, thereby inhibiting them from an ever-expanding array of career options that have gained respectability amongst the lucrative professions of the fast-paced world in which we live.
This is a new academic year. There is much that can, should and must be done to rouse us from our slumber and relocate physical education and sport as one discipline just where it is supposed to be, at the core of our education system, integrated in our wellness revolution and central to the broader goal of genuine national development.
Ads a nation St Vincent and the Grenadines remains replete with potential.
Here is a challenge for us to realise that immense potential.
Let the process begin!