Physical Education in our nation’s schools

Is your child physically active?
Is your child involved in physical education at any level, here in St Vincent and the Grenadines?
Is your child obese?
Are you monitoring the level of your child’s physical well-being on a regular basis and, if you are, how is it being done?
The foregoing are some very important questions for parents of children here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. But how many of our parents today are asking themselves these very questions?
We watch our children grow around us and hesitate to pay appropriate attention to what they eat and the impact that the absence of physical activity does to them.
Unfortunately, too many parents jokingly boast of this or that child in the family who is si focused on his/her education that he/she has no time to play. Meanwhile the child gradually becomes overweight and obese.
The World Date Atlas notes, Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A crude population measure of obesity is the body mass index (BMI), a person’s weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of his or her height (in metres). A person with a BMI of 30 or more is generally considered obese. A person with a BMI equal to or more than 25 is considered overweight. Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Once considered a problem only in high income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.
The World Data Atlas cites the statistics available on St Vincent and the Grenadines has produced the following information. In general, the obesity in our country was 15.1% in 2010 but rose to 17.9% four years later. This reflects a change of 18.54%. This during a period following our Prime Minister’s call at the CARICOM level for the pursuit of a Wellness Revolution in the Caribbean to redress the significant increases in non-communicable diseases (NCD) and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD).
When the statistics and further broken down they reveal adult obesity prevalence for females at 28.6% (2010) and later, 30.9% (2014), a change of 8.04%. Adult obesity prevalence for males during the same period were 15.1% (2010) and 17.9% (2014), a change of 18.54%.
The aforementioned statistics reveal that St Vincent and the Grenadines has a problem with obesity.
Without the statistics on child obesity in our country we can nonetheless suggest that the situation may well be much worse.
Rather interestingly, we find ourselves at a point where at the governmental level there are few examples of physical activity being taken seriously.
Ministry of Health etc.
The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment in this country has been addressing the matter of significant increase in NCDs and CNCDs in our country. The reality is alarming.
The fact that NCDs and CNCDs are lifestyle diseases means that a healthy lifestyle would be a deterrent to their increase in the country. However, the message is not being taken seriously by the average Vincentian, enough for the officials in health to feel confident that we are turning the corner in the fight against NCDs and CNCDs.
One of the problems however is the failure of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment to engage other government ministries and agencies as well as other national bodies in the construction of a broad-based organisation to combat the growing problem.
There are times when it is felt that the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment operates as though the fight can be won by a unilateral approach.
There is little evidence to show that for all of its programmes the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment has not impacted the increase in NCDs and CNCDs in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Ministry of Education
The Ministry of Education remains tardy in respect of its own approach to physical literacy.
As yet it does appear that the ministry has been unable to impress on the government the important role of physical literacy as a third pillar in the early development of the child alongside numeracy and literacy.
At best some may well suggest that while physical education and sport are mentioned in discussions about educational development in the country the real evidence of genuine commitment is lacking.
The fact that as yet there is no policy in respect of making physical education compulsory in the nation’s education system is the single most important piece of evidence that speaks to the harsh reality. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the government’s lack of real commitment to what it so often calls, an education revolution.
If we are not ensuring that movement, coordination, is deliberately taught to the nation’s children as an integral aspect of their broader education development we are short-changing them. Understanding the body and the role of movement in the overall development of the human being is as essential to the child’s development as is mathematics or history and geography.
Somehow, and unfortunately so, we have mistakenly confused sending the child out to play, with no structured input from the physical education teacher, is adequate. We take this approach with no other subject area on the school’s programme yet we believe that we are accomplishing something.
While our educators spend much time determining the number of sessions a student must have for each of the academic subjects, little attention is paid to how much time is dedicated to physical education and sport. The latter twin-discipline is treated as something that detracts from the academic orientation that schools are supposed to provide. Not surprisingly therefore, we hear of the leaders of our education programme bemoaning students’ involvement on physical education and sport as, loss of instructional time.
Little attention is paid to physical education and physical activity in our education system. Instead we boast of allowing schools to have sport competitions internally and involve them in inter-school competitions but hope that these activities are limited in nature.
Not much attention is paid to the role of the twin-discipline of physical education and sport in the life of the average student.
Our education system still engages in the old approach propped up by the broader approach to national development. Students continue to ponder on the reality that while being asked to achieve success in an array of subjects many of these are never used beyond their school years.
Physical activity is life-long and life-fulfilling.
Unfortunately, in the national development strategy there is really no strong link between what the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment does in planning and executing plans and strategies to combat NCDs and CNCDs and the education programme in the nation’s schools. The two ministries are actually miles apart. The same can be said about the Ministry of Sport.
One would have thought that at the governmental level there would have been an early realisation that these three institutions are critical to the development of the human condition and as such would be in constant communication regarding the mechanisms that can best facilitate the emergence of a sustainable pathway for every Vincentian to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
The Physical Education and Sports Teachers Association (PESTA) of St Vincent and the Grenadines has been around for some time. However, the organisation has had very little impact in respect of engendering national awareness of the importance of physical activity and sport to the enhancement of the human condition.
For too long PESTA has allowed itself to focus merely on the sport competitions between schools.
Little attention, if any, has been placed on the development of physical education in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is PESTA that must educate the Vincentian populace on the concept of physical literacy and how this must be integrated into the national consciousness as a pillar of our education from birth through to death.
PESTA is the organisation that must display a firm and consistent commitment to the cause of making physical education compulsory in the nation’s education system and fully integrated into all aspects of Vincentian life.
The leadership of PESTA must insist on demanding that more resources be allocated to the provision of scholarships for students to earn degrees and professional training in physical education. We must have physical education specialists teaching our children just as we do in respect of the other subjects in our curricula.
It is unsatisfactory to simply pick up an individual and thrust him/her into a school armed only with some past experience in sport.
PESTA has to develop itself into a truly professional organisation with the capacity to create syllabuses for each stage of the nation’s education programme. The organisation must constantly evaluate the impact of the PE and Sport programme in our schools and on the nation.
PESTA can play a major role in fashioning an approach to a healthy lifestyle that wages an incessant war against NCDs and CNCDs that serves to bridge the existing divide between the Ministries of Health, Education, Youth, Community Development and Sport. This approach would go a long way in creating healthy citizens, healthy communities and a healthy nation.
The well-being of the entire nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines stands to benefit from a well-organised and focused PESTA committed to its mandate.
The recently elected President of Peru has been leading his country by example.
Before each session of Cabinet, he takes his ministers to and through a full hour of physical activity (exercise). His emphasis is that physical fitness plays an important role in having his ministers truly focused, disciplined and generally more productive.
In Japan, it has long been fashionable for businesses to include in their headquarters a fully-equipped gymnasium to be used by their employees. Here again the decision is based on the understanding of the immense benefits of regular physical activity.
We need only to remember that regular physical activity allows us to control body weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, improve mental health, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, strengthen bones and muscles, increases productivity and enhances overall personal discipline. In a nutshell, it facilitates the development of the whole person.
We ignore the benefits of physical activity at our peril, whether as an individual or a nation..