Re-thinking our approaches

Barrow defines physical education as an education of and through human movement…
Webster’s Dictionary defines it as a part of education which gives instruction in the development of the body ranging from simple callisthenic exercises to a course of study providing training in hygiene, gymnastics and the performance and management of athletics games.
Perhaps one of the best definitions comes from Charles A Bucher – an integral part of the total education process…a field of endeavour which has as its aim the development of physically, mentally, emotionally and socially fit citizens through the medium of physical activities which have been selected with a view to realising these outcomes.
In a recent discussion on physical education and sport in the nation’s schools it was stated that perhaps we here had missed the boat. We have gone ahead with the introduction of physical education on the curriculum of the secondary schools but have neglected to do likewise at the primary school level.
There is much by way of research on the importance of physical education and sport to the holistic development of the child and one wonders why we have taken so long to show any measure of appreciation for this reality and then compound it by starting at the secondary level.
Health and Wellness
Much has been written about the importance of ensuring access to good health practices by all individuals if they are to survive. In most countries we endorse this by establishing ministries with responsibility for the health of the nation.
Evidence suggests that regular exercise facilitates physical and mental well being. The rise of non communicable diseases has prompted researchers to show the immense benefits to be gained from a regimen that involves engagement in exercise.
The leadership of St Vincent and the Grenadines, while attending a CARICOM meeting that sought to address the state of health and wellness amongst member states called for a re-thinking of existing approaches to the problems identified and called for a ‘wellness revolution’.
Interestingly, we enunciated the concept of a ‘wellness revolution’ at the regional forum without ever having ventilated anything remotely close to it here at home in the first instance. What this meant was that having raised the matter at the CARIOCOM level where it made the regional media rounds it became necessary to start speaking about it at home. Suddenly, almost without warning, just as was the case with the ‘education revolution’ St Vincent and the Grenadines found itself attempting to define what exactly is a ‘wellness revolution’. This is still not very clear but the concept certainly sounds good in the public domain whether locally, regionally or internationally.
What is necessary is for the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment here to interface with the Ministries of Sport, Agriculture and Fisheries and Education. Wellness in large measure depends on what we grow and what we eat. It relies on ensuring a balanced diet is readily available to the population, especially the very young who require a very healthy start in life.
Wellness relies on access to information on good eating habits as well as the options for regular exercise.
Thus far, generally, we have not seen the kind of collaboration required for good health practices that would facilitate wellness among the Vincentian population, to say nothing about a ‘wellness revolution’.
Talk is cheap.
Physical education
Physical education is something that should begin in the formative years of the child. This would therefore suggest that parents be made aware of the fundamentals of physical education such that they can assist their children to get into this as part of their early socialisation.
It is amazing how often we hear of increasing obesity among children. This may well be a reflection on the lack of understanding of the parents and other family members who unfortunately see a child who eats plenty as a sign of good health.
Over the years we have lamented the weakness of local programming of a developmental nature on our television. The time has come for those in authority to spend some time redressing this. We do need some programmes that would allow parents to gain an appreciation of physical education in their own lives and those of their children so that they can begin the process at home.
In the same way that parents take time to engage their children in learning to speak, to eat, to walk, they must also ensure that the fundamentals of coordinated movement skills are taught. Dance is but one fine example for children especially since they see much of this. Unfortunately the dance that some of the young children adopt very early come from what they see their parents do while partying. Unfortunately some parents seem to see the gyrations of their girl children at a very early age as preparing them for the annual carnival celebrations rather than an aptitude for the rudiments of movement and an aspect of physical education.
We have not yet gotten to the point where our physical education teachers consider their discipline as impacting early childhood development. This is perhaps the main reason why we have no trained physical educators at the pre-school level in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is not perceived as necessary. Instead at this early stage in the child’s development there is an assumption that the pre-school teachers have a sufficient understanding of the rudiments of physical education and this is not necessarily the case.
While the children are often taken out to play at the pre-schools they are not necessarily given to an appreciation of the coordination that is objective of physical education.
If we are serious about a wellness revolution that goes beyond mere rhetoric it is important for pre-schools to have some sort of physical education expert accessible to them for consultation. This could be used to ensure that their teachers are exposed to what may be considered the fundamentals of this discipline. This would certainly go a long way towards facilitating the developmental processes involved in the inculcation of a culture of wellness in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Primary school
The evident weakness in our approach to physical education at the pre-school level filters through to the primary school level. Here again in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have missed the boat.
Evidence suggests that among the nation’s primary schools only the Kingstown Preparatory School has been allowed the facility of a full-time teacher responsible for physical education and sport at the institution. Ian Sardine has been engaged in this practice at the Kingstown Prep, as it is popularly called, for several years and the impact has been evident, at least in the participation of the children in sporting activity.
It certainly behoves Sardine to ensure that his expertise in physical education is taken to the highest level and that he prepares the children, regardless of interest in sport, to an appreciation of physical education to their overall development.
It is difficult to understand why it is that the Ministry of Education seeming fails to understand the grave disservice to the children of this nation when at the primary school level they are not exposed to physical education in a systematic way.
If we are serious about wellness in this country physical education should not be an option at the Teachers’ College but rather a compulsory subject that involves a significant practical component. The teachers must be given to understanding the role that this plays in their own well being and that of the children they are destined to teach at the different levels.
At the primary school level we take a different approach for all of the other subjects. In the case of the other subjects students are given a sound start to understanding and appreciating the foundation that must serve them through their secondary schooling and ultimately to their CXCs. This does not happen in the case of physical education.
Secondary school
The situation in respect of physical education at the secondary school level is only marginally different.
While attempts are being made to encourage persons to study through to the degree level in physical education the numbers are well below what is required. There are too few physical education graduates in the system.
The Ministry of Education readily agreed to adopt the CXC position to have annual exams in Physical Education. In this sense the cart is well before the horse in St Vincent and the Grenadines. We are starting at the top. The response of the Ministry of Education has been to prepare students with no foundation in the primary school and little in early secondary school to work in forms four and five for the CXC exams.
It remains an amazing reality that so many persons readily pass the CXC exams in physical education with little or no foundation in the discipline. It is either the few teachers are exceptional, the students are remarkably brilliant or there is reason to be concerned about the standards of the exams at the CXC level.
One remains bothered that many of the students who are opting for physical education as an examinable subject at CXC are doing so more because they have been involved in sport in early school or because they see the subject as requiring much less out of them than the other subjects.
As it now stands the work in physical education in forms one through three is not directly related to what is being done for CXC in the later forms. This is in stark contradiction to what obtains in the other subjects and must receive some attention from those in authority. It cannot be allowed to continue.
Many of the persons who have done physical education as the CXC level remain uninterested in the subject beyond the results. We have not yet seen an adequate number of persons anxiously pursuing degrees in physical education in St Vincent and the Grenadines as a career option.
There must be cause for concern that we are not yet getting the impression that our education system is making the contribution we need to the well being of our Vincentian people.
Physical education is critical to wellness and if we desire a healthy society with people committed and capable of developing St Vincent and the Grenadines. The time is now.
We are already too late.