Physical Education and Sport – the Caribbean reality

One month ago the CARICOM Committee for Health and Social Development (COHSOD) convened a meeting of Ministers and Directors of Sport from around the region at its headquarters in Guyana to engage in a forum entitled, Promoting Inclusion, Health, Education and Development Through Sport.
A little more than one week later, Germany convened a seminar entitled, Communities in Crisis – Inclusive Development Through Sport. This was held during the period 27 – 30 October 2012.
Perhaps it is instructive that these two programmes could be held in the same month in two regions of the world that are so far apart, not just in terms of geography but also in terms of approaches to the development of their respective peoples.
Germany has been in the forefront of research and development efforts aimed at ensuring that its people are conscious of the importance of physical activity and physical culture to their overall wellbeing.
It is not that the Caribbean has not understood the importance of physical education and sport – physical activity to our development as human beings but rather that our leaders have been unwilling to expend resources in this direction in a manner consistent with what is required if we are to reap the immense benefits of such programming.
Thus it is that COHSOD took time to remind the Ministers and Directors of Sport across the region of the role of PE and Sport to the development of our peoples while Germany finds itself in a state of flux as they appear to have relaxed on their laurels, allowing PE and Sport to lose their place in the broader national development process.
Revisiting PE in the Caribbean
The COHSOD meeting reviewed in brief the status of physical education in the Caribbean. The results are not good.
It is interesting to note that while many countries had physical education in their respective education programmes they did not press for the subject to become appropriately examinable on par with the likes of mathematics, biology or literature. Instead they seem to have taken the subject for granted and acknowledged it to be inferior to the other subject areas.
Not surprisingly, it was only when the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) introduced PE and Sport as examinable subjects at the regional level that many Ministries of Education in the region began to pay serious attention to the twin discipline.
In a presentation to COHSOD, one specialist from Guyana, insisted that PE and Sport must be integral to education. However, this is not now the case in many of our countries. He noted that while Caribbean governments have responded favourably to the CXC’s promotion of PE and Sport on the list of examinable subjects the culture in the region does not readily allow for students to be favourably disposed to taking the subject seriously enough to consider it as leading to a satisfactory future.
He pointed to several barriers to the development of PE and Sport in the Caribbean. These include but are not limited to:

  • Budgetary constraints
  • Inadequate resources
  • Overcrowded curriculum
  • Existing culture/traditions
  • Absence of performance measurement
  • Absence of professional and continuous development
  • Inadequate or lack of facilities and equipment
  • Reduction in number of periods for PE and Sport on time table

Teacher-related barriers to PE and Sport in the education system also exist and these include:

  • Lack of knowledge, skills, training
  • Feelings of insecurity
  • Low levels of interest for PE and Sport at leadership level of schools
  • Inability to plan and execute structured PE lessons
  • Difficulty in educating students
  • Absence of Research and Development in PE and Sport

Finally, he identified student-related barriers that include:

  • Changing attitude towards PE and Sport
  • Lack of understanding of benefits of PE and Sport
  • Low level of interest in PE and Sport
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of PE programmes which include content for persons with disabilities (PWD)

The aforementioned picture is not at all good for the future of the Caribbean. While some may suggest that this is only PE and Sport the fact is that these twin disciplines are as important to any society as the other subject areas.
In 2011 CARICOM sought to bring into focus the importance of physical education to the broader education programme of Ministries of Education across the region. Apart from calling for greater commitment to the introduction of PE and Sport in the system some standards were established by the regional institution. These included among other things the treatment of PE and Sport as a subject on the school’s curriculum in the same manner as any other without prejudice.
The CARICOM document stated:
Quality Physical Education programs are essential in helping students gain competence and confidence in a variety of movement forms such as: aquatics, dance, gymnastics, recreational and activities. It should provide a sound framework for the design and assessment that develop the students’ motivation, fitness, cognitive, affective/behavioural, and active lifestyle needs, and should focus on life-time involvement.
Students display positive attitudes towards an active lifestyle
Exhibit better health habits (tend not to smoke)
Students develop personal physical fitness and enhance bone growth
Exhibit more positive attitudes about school, physical activity and self
Play better with others
Have less aggressive behaviours
Perform as well or better academically
Of course the aforementioned dlist is not exhaustive but they touch upon some critical aspects of the human condition.
Importantly, the framers of the Policy document considered the amount of time allocated to Physical Education and Sport to be directly related to its importance. The belief is that the time has come to redress the negatives about these twin disciplines and allow them to take their rightful place in the Education System in the Caribbean. In any event the Caribbean is well behind in this regard.
Because of a lack of understanding on the part of many in respect of Physical Education and Sport the twin disciplines were unfortunately referred to as games in the Education System across the Caribbean for several years. Subsequently and understandably the individuals who were assigned to take the students out for games did exactly that. They took them out and left them to their own devices.
When competitions were scheduled the assigned staff would call forth all those who had prior experience or who displayed a certain aptitude for the sport involved in the pending competition and a school team was selected. That is the reason some students never engaged in sport or physical activity throughout their school career.
Students who came through the system at the time found no reason to pursue studies in Physical Education and Sport at university. First it was not offered until very recently at the UWI. Indeed UWI went the route of Sports Management before establishing full degrees in PE and Sport.
PE and Sport were not seen as offering much of a future to any student unless they happened to have excelled in sport and obtained an athletics scholarship to study abroad. Indeed many of the first PE and Sport graduates were former athletes. This approach left academically oriented students with a perception that PE and Sport degrees were of lesser value because they attracted people of lesser intellect. That was the preferred interpretation.
Tone of the problems with PE and Sport is that even today the twin discipline shave a major challenge divorcing itself from the aforementioned image/perception. In an effort to change this some leaders in the Education System seek to encourage PE and Sport personnel to sharpen their image and to adopt some sort of dress code that at least exudes a level of professionalism that allows for the attract of respect as much as any other profession.
Child Protection and Safeguarding in Physical Education and Sport
Finally, perhaps it is appropriate here to address a primary concern that has not received due attention in Caribbean circles. It is the matter of child abuse/
Recent revelations in the Sandusky trial in the USA have opened a can of worms that may yet yield more devastating information. While we like to say that has not happened and cannot happen here, the fact is that it may already be with us.
Child abuse in PE and Sport can range from inadequate facilities to excessive enforcement of children to engage in difficult or challenging physical activities to sexual issues, especially in relation to children under the age of 15 years.
There is a tendency for some practitioners to literally bully students into physical activity because of a perception of their potential. That constitutes child abuse as much as is the case where improper equipment and facilities are used knowing the immense risk to life and limb on the part of the young student.
The time has come for every Caribbean country to enact appropriate laws to address child abuse in Physical Education and Sport. We cannot wait any longer. The time is now.
The case for physical activity to be an integral part of the Education System and indeed part of life in any society cannot be overstated.
There is an urgent need therefore for a meeting of minds in respect of best approaches to be undertaken.
While there exists policies governing much of the other components of education in these Caribbean countries there is precious little in so far as physical activity is concerned.
We can certainly do better.
Our immense potential as a region lies in our capacity to develop our people. Physical activity must be a critical component of that human development strategy.