Integrating physical education
While the government’s initiative to introduce compulsory sports into school curriculums is impressive – most schools lack the requisite infrastructure.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has taken a path-breaking decision for millions of school children by making it mandatory for schools to allocate at least one period daily for Health and Physical Education (HPE) from the current session onwards. The guidelines issued henceforth highlight the collaboration of the HRD Ministry with the Sports Ministry, aiming to create medal-winning sportspersons for the country in the future. It is a welcome step for school students as it will provide them with a platform to nurture their talent.
The HPE manual issued by the Board integrates games, yoga, physical exercises, life-skills and value education for the holistic development of a child. The HPE component is divided into four strands namely Games/Sports, Health & Fitness, Social Empowerment through Work Education and Action (SEWA) and Health & Activity card records. Each strand has been allocated fixed periods and marks. The guidelines further state that there will be no theory classes as a part of this format. Every child is free to choose the games of his/her choice under this new system. The manual designates the class teacher's responsibility for ensuring that each child participates in all strands; the class teacher will also facilitate all of them in the absence of a sports teacher. It is mandatory for the schools to implement HPE and upload a report of work accomplished across the strands of secondary and senior secondary grades to enable students to appear for the Board examinations. This obligatory clause has come as a nightmare for the schools.
The HPE circular issued by the Board came less like guidelines and more like a fatwa. It seems the manual has been borrowed from some foreign agency like the infamously-failed Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system of the board. The board has, unfortunately, not taken the infrastructure hurdles that schools encounter into consideration but, instead, pronounced a mammoth task for undertaking. There are numerous schools across India, affiliated in the seventies and eighties, which have either moderate size playgrounds or no playgrounds at all. Considering a school having four sections each of forty students from class ninth to twelfth, the allocation of the timetable will be a daunting task. To accommodate over a hundred students in a playground at a time while ensuring their safety is in itself challenging. The HPE format gives students the liberty to choose the game/sport of their own choice. It is still beyond comprehension how a teacher will manage a class of over four dozen students in choosing different games in one period. The board executives have not looked into these concerns before issuing the injunction.
The onus of responsibility laying on the class teacher itself makes a mockery of the orders. At secondary and senior secondary levels, a class teacher is a specialist of her/his subject and not a physical education teacher. An economics or physics teacher in her late fifties guiding young pupils through the intricacies of playing basketball is enough to imagine the ridicule hidden in this format. Policymakers are of the opinion that it is desirable that every teacher should know the basics of games. It is akin to an English Language teacher teaching Mathematics when the latter subject teacher is absent in the pretext that every teacher should know basic math.
The component SEWA which is Social Empowerment through Work Education and Action is again proving to be an embarrassment for the schools. Of late, schools have become cautious about taking students out for excursions and other community services due to the frequent occurrences of untoward incidences during the past one year. On one hand, the government has failed to formulate a sound education policy and has failed to enact even a single law for the welfare of teachers while, on the other hand, it wants them to perform magical spells to change the education system of the country overnight. SEWA also involves the maintenance of huge records, which will hamper the already overburdened schedule of the students.
In our country, board examinations and results are too competitive and stressful for a child, giving little scope for other leisure within the prevalent education framework. The policy of mainstreaming HPE is good in intention but quite hard to implement. The palpable fear is that it should not meet the fate of CCE where the records were bogusly maintained by the schools without delivering its effective end-product. Majority of the schools in our country are primarily academic oriented and sports facilities merely complement the scholastics. The call of the hour is to provide an impetus to our sports budget. The education system needs an overhauling where more and more sports schools are set up and sports should be treated at par with the scholastic subjects by ensuring lifelong livelihood commitment to the sportspersons. The government should understand that if we are so serious about increasing our Olympics medal tally, we should improve on providing the desired sports infrastructure to our kids on the lines of China rather than giving them one extra free period.
(The author is an Educationist. The views expressed are strictly personal)