Sports curriculum outsourcing is fast catching up with Indian schools. Sriranjitha Jeurkar meets management services firms that help schools with structured play, including adventure camps and nature sessions
There was a time when students would spend six hours in school, come back home, dump their schoolbags and go out to play. Of course, that was a time when life was simple and uncomplicated, when there were no dance classes or math tuitions to attend, when television was boring, and when people lived in independent houses and each lane had at least half a dozen children of the child’s age — whether he/she was three years old or thirteen.
Today, children go to school by bus or car, sit in class all day, come back home and go to tuitions, or sit down at their computers to “play”.
Get them movin’
Earlier, parents found it difficult to bring a playing child back home, while today’s parents have a different problem: the problem of getting to child out to play. Psychological studies have shown that it is harmful for children to be without any activity for long periods of time. But today, with both parents working long hours and children being left to their own devices for a large part of the day, this has almost become ‘normal’.
Fortunately, some schools today are now introducing structured sports activities and extracurricular outdoor activities for the children, to help them develop physically, socially and mentally.
Saumil Majmudar, whose company Edusports has introduced a sports curriculum for schools, agrees that playing is an important factor that contributes to the overall development of the child.
Where’s the time, ask parents
“Kids today aren’t playing enough. Due to lack of time and space, the focus on play is going away. It’s about health and fitness too – kids shouldn’t be going to gyms or dieting to lose weight. More kids are becoming obese, and obese kids become obese adults,” he says.
This lack of physical activity among children can be explained by the fact that as academic and other pressures increase, the child has very little time to spend playing. In most cases, children from nuclear families come home to a babysitter or caretaker, and then spend their free time playing video games and watching television.
The increase in the number of facilities — like being driven around by car, for instance — ensures that the children don’t have to exert themselves physically, even for simple things like going to school, or walking to a friend’s house.
“We understand the constraints, especially when both the parents are working,” says Lata Shivkumar, Principal of Zee School, Bangalore. “There are time and space constraints, and children now spend most of their time at home. In such a situation, we cannot expect much from the home front, so we have to compensate for it in school,” she explains.
The great outdoors
Edusports, a Bangalore-based company, has taken over responsibilities for this, in 35 schools, across 15 Indian cities. The company, which aims to ensure that ‘classrooms extend to the playground’, implements a structured sports curriculum for students, starting from the kindergarten level. It provides age-appropriate props and equipments for the children to play with, has a format that can fit into the school’s timetable and infrastructure, and holds teacher-parent workshops to ensure that parents can do their bit to help their child participate more in physical activities.
It also provides a fitness measurement tool: bench- marking tests are conducted on each child, both at the beginning and at the end of a term or year. These tests aim to measuring a child’s endurance, speed, upper body strength, lower body strength, flexibility and Body Mass Index.
The emphasis, then, is on ensuring that all children are exposed to sports and games, right through their childhood. As Majmudar explains, the problem — even when schools do place enough emphasis on sport — is that only the best in each sport are nurtured.
“The coaches at such schools always come from a team background. So their focus is on the student who has best potential, say someone who is good enough to play for the country. For the school management, winning is important, so the only way they can measure how well the coach is doing his job is by evaluating their school’s performance in tournaments. So, while the best ones get trained, the majority of children are neglected,” he adds.
A better way to measure such physical activity, according to Majmudar is to check whether the child has the knowledge, skills and the attitude needed to stay fit for life. “The child must know how to play, know the rules of the game and be able to enjoy it. You cannot measure leadership or social skills, but you can measure health and fitness. Our curriculum is very structured, and we can pinpoint and say that the child is good at a particular activity, and not in another.”
Learning to rough it out
While some schools have implemented the sports curriculum, others send their students to rough it out in the woods. Organisations like InMe and Youreka organise camps for children aged from 9 to 16.
Most of these camps are held away from the city; the children have no access to the luxuries of the television, computer, internet, telephone or playstations. Youreka organises seven-day camps for young children and teenagers. The children have to participate in various activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, river rafting, and other activities in which they work together as a team.
“By the age of 9, children are ready to take independent charge of small things. This is also the age when they are keen to explore new things, and their inquisitive nature is at its peak. So the impact of such activities at this age can be lifelong. The children become physically active, and also learn to make their own decisions, to get along with others,” says Ronny Gulati, Director.
These activities are sometimes even combined with the academic curriculum, to make students learn in a fresh environment. Inme, for instance, organises camps in which the teacher and student are sent to an outdoor location, where the teacher has to teach the children without familiar aids like the blackboard, computer or an LCD projector.
“This helps students interact better with their teacher; it also helps them learn practically. For instance, we have many activities that are done using a rope. This teaches kids about weights and balances, force, etc. Such learning will always have better impact on the child than theoretical classroom learning,” says Junaid Hussain, Head (South India) Sales, Inme.
Principals of schools that have introduced such curriculum and activities believe that it has had a positive impact on their students. R Srinivas, Principal of SSB International School, Bangalore, in which Edusports’ curriculum was introduced last year, says, “Children have a lot of energy, and it has to be used constructively. Else, they make a lot of noise in class and are very restless. Now that they are expending their energies constructively, we find that they are less restless, and a lot more attentive in class.”
Lata Shivkumar too says that students from her school, who have been attending such sports sessions, seem to have benefited from the activities organised. Students who didn’t like to school otherwise now look forward to coming to school, and work well together.
Fostering team spirit
Apart from helping the child be physically fit, sports and outdoor activities are known to help children learn to see with different perspectives, develop healthy attitudes towards others, learn to work within a team, have different experiences and understand individual-specific differences — the physiological and psychological benefits are enormous.
Children — particularly those who believe that they have achieved something — develop an ‘I Can’ attitude. “It makes them less self-centred and helps them build social relations. They make friends with other kids and learn the value of things they normally take for granted,” explains Husain.
And in response to all those who believe that children should only do something that will give them huge benefits, Majumdar has a point to raise: “Children play for fun, not because they want to be healthy or fit. Fun doesn’t have to mean laughing always.
Intense experiences can be fun; you could find it fun to connect with the people around you; you could have fun achieving your potential. That’s where physical education comes in. But then, why do we always look at how something can benefit the child? Why can’t our children play for fun?”