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Becoming a student of the game called life

The National Education Policy 2020 realises the significance of integrating sports with classroom education for physical, psychological and social well-being of children. It is in this backdrop that we will seek synergies between the new policy, and the schemes of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to dispatch the problems highlighted below.

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Sports and physical education in general have received a fillip under the current dispensation. Ancient yet eternally relevant practices like yoga have resurfaced into public consciousness due to a concerted push by the present government. The prime minister’s endorsement of the FIT-India campaign has resonated with the masses willing to sweat for a sturdier frame in which to repose a calmer interior. This awakening has been accompanied by the blooming of professional leagues in various sports which have created new jobs(like content and event management) revolving around the carnival. Allied to this are fledgling schemes like TOP run by Sports Authority of India(SAI) which intend to put Indians on the podium during the congregation of sporting excellence i.e. the Olympics.

 Despite these welcome changes India is neither physically fit nor excelling in sports. A huge chunk of our population is suffering from NonCommunicable(lifestyle related) Diseases. These ailments have worsened the impact of COVID19 and need to be prevented rather than managed. They have also hampered our chances of winning accolades at multi-national events, unlike comparable competitors like China. The root of the problem lies in the devaluing of sports and physical education right from the formative years of our children. Lack of space within schools and shortage of requisite facilities like equipments restricts them from reveling on the field. The absence of guidance under trained eyes dulls their motor and sensory skills which are vital for improving their learning outcomes in school. When this reality collides with an unrelenting pressure to excel in academics, the sport within them wilts and dies.

This is unfortunate because adopting a healthy lifestyle will increase both the attendance and retention of children within the education system. They will feel fitter, suffer from fewer illnesses, and attending school will no longer be a chore. The state will also save expenses on healthcare which it can plough into schemes for meeting nutritional requirements of our children. Besides sports and physical education helps students inculcate intangible qualities like discipline and persistence. This helps them to channelize their energy in a productive manner while opening avenues for picking a profession. It also promotes social cohesion by dismantling hierarchies between teachers and students and amongst students themselves.

The national education policy 2020 realizes the significance of integrating sports with classroom education for physical, psychological and social well-being of children. It is in this backdrop that we will seek synergies between the new policy, and the schemes of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to dispatch the problems highlighted above.

Creation and management of school complexes for peaceful sharing of resources and expertise:- The emphasis of the Right to Education Act on universal access to primary education led to construction of schools on a rapid scale. Since the focus was on access, each school enrolled few students, had inadequate teachers and minimal facilities which impaired learning. Acknowledging this malaise the new policy advocates for creation of school complexes comprising of one secondary school and others providing elementary education within a radius of 5-10 miles.

 These units lying within a complex will be encouraged to compete with each other. The complexes lying in close proximity to each other can exchange ideas for their mutual betterment. The principals and teachers of the school complex will have to devise their own development plan(DP) with the assistance of the School Complex Management Committee(SCMC). These DPs can stress on accessibility to and quality of vocational and physical education being imparted within their premises.

 The Directorate of School Education(DSE) will provide resources (financial, human, physical, etc.) necessary to achieve the SCDPs in both the shortterm (one-year) and longterm (3-5 years).

 To ensure that all schools follow certain minimal professional and quality standards, States/UTs will set up an independent, state-wide, body called the State School Standards Authority (SSSA). The SSSA will establish a minimal set of standards based on basic parameters (namely, safety, security, basic infrastructure, number of teachers across subjects and grades, financial probity, and sound processes of governance), which shall be followed by all schools. The framework for these parameters will be created by the State Council of Education Research and Training(SCERT) in consultation with various stakeholders, especially teachers and schools.

Bearing in mind the shortage of playing space within schools, each state and district will form a playground authority analogous to the National Playground Federation of India. All three organizations will work together for optimal utilization of the playgrounds within their domains through Geographical Information System(GIS) mapping. The policy also encourages states to build or upgrade existing community centers called “Bal Bhavans” as part of school complexes. These venues will serve as spaces where children can gather to indulge in creative pursuits, which include playing games and sports.

The policy also understands that under-nourished and enervated children can’t perform tasks that exert massive cognitive load on their faculties. Thus it suggests provisioning of an energizing breakfast before the mid-day meal. These ‘simple but nutritious meal(like groundnuts/chana mixed with jaggery and/or local fruits)’ will let student immerse themselves into both lectures and playful leisure.

Identification and nurturing of young talent through periodic competitions: Organizing Khelo India School Games at multiple levels(like block, district and state) for various agegroups ranging from three to eighteen during vacations can encourage maximum participation from students. They can present a hotbed for professionals from SAI to scout, pluck and groom talent in priority sports. Those selected can receive scholarships and mentoring from coaches accredited with National Institute of Sports in Patiala. The students who dropped out to pursue a career in sports can resume their schooling under the National Open Schooling system run by NIOS, MHRD as part of the Open and Distancing Learning initiatives under the education policy. Further the new 360 degree progress card mooted under the policy, to continuously track the overall development of children in school, should also note their potential to excel in sports.

A lot of importance has been placed on languages within the policy. The discovery, recording and promotion of indigenous sports can be construed as a dialectical form of expression within the complexes. This initiative can be overseen by the Indigenous Games Management Authority in collaboration with private philanthropies (embedded in these localities) serving as indigenous sports development organizations. As suggested under the policy the school complexes can also hire ‘local eminent persons or experts as master instructors’ who can introduce indigenous games to a new crop of students.

The funding for these events can be ensured through creation of a State Sports Development Fund(SSDF) by the respective states, which will be analogous to the National Sports Development Fund. The complexes within a specified geographical area sending maximum participants to intra-district/ intra-state/ inter-state competitions can be rewarded with additional grants by declaring that space as a Special Sports Zone. Further companies can pour their Corporate Social Responsibility funds into events which occur near their premises or which match their ethos. Members of Parliament can be encouraged to apportion a part of their MPLAD funds for developing infrastructure for these events. A matching grant can then be raised by the MYAS to augment the amount. Finally Socio-Economically Disadvantaged( SEDG) and gender inclusion funds proposed under the policy should boost the participation and performance of these marginalized groups in sporting activities.

Regular training and assessment of physical education(PE) teachers within school complexes: According to the policy all teachers will be appointed after finishing a four-year professional Bachelor of Education degree. Their coursework for the degree should have modules on physical education and sports. The National Professional Standards for Teachers which will specify the requirements for recruitment and appraisal of PE instructors, can be developed by taking cues from PINDICS designed by NCERT. Those deemed meritorious can be encouraged to become master trainers(for a specific sport) within their respective districts. They will attend orientation programs and online courses in various disciplines like sports science, medicine and management, which can be anchored by the Human Performance Lab run by MYAS. These courses can also be supported The Tech Support and Capacity Building Services and Funds(TSCBSF) under Khelo India scheme. Besides one Higher Educational Institution(HEI) in each district can impart training to teachers (including PEs) so that they can incorporate lessons from sports within their pedagogy. These initiatives should form the backbone of the Teacher Development Part(TDP) to be prepared as part of the SCDPs.

Swami Vivekanand had once remarked that one can learn more from playing football than by reading the Gita. Drawing on his vision, these steps can broaden India’s shoulders on her field, her people leaning on each other while walking towards a future more fertile than their imaginations.

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Amit Shah

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