Is the ball rolling in government schools?

Aditi Mutatkar and Hemanta Mahanta

Physical Education (PE) as defined widely around the world, including India, has four major components that it affects – the physical, the social, the emotional and the cognitive development of a child. It is accepted unanimously as an important part of a child’s educational experience and is critical to his/her holistic growth. In India, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 has recommended that every child, annually, should have access to organized play for at least 100 hrs in an academic year. Physical education has also been made compulsory in all schools and by all boards in India.

The point to consider is – does just making physical education compulsory ensure the quality of output expected from it? I ask this question after our experience of working with government schools in Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

Let me illustrate this point with a real-life scenario observed in a school from Ambala.

A real-life scenario of a PE class in Ambala

C.B. Sharma, PET (Bal Balika Vidyalaya, EDMC, NEW Delhi)
On the ground of a government school in Ambala, a group of 25 children get ready for their PE period. The physical education teacher comes to the ground with a ball in his hand. He gathers the class, gives them the ball and asks them to play football. If the class had fewer children, one football might have sufficed but there were 25 children on the ground! After giving the ball the teacher sits in his chair in a corner till the period comes to an end. Of the 25 children on the ground, some are girls who pick a corner under a tree and sit down to talk. Around eight boys are strong and fast, so most of the time they have the ball and are seen dribbling it from one corner to another. The remaining boys slowly lose interest and start whiling away their time either talking or looking at the eight boys play.

This scenario is the PE period in a majority of government schools in the country. So now the question is, are these children really learning anything of value, be it physical, socio-emotional or cognitive in the 45 minutes they spend in a PE class? If this is the kind of PE class that these children participate in through the year, will we be able to determine if there has been any tangible impact on them? The answers to these questions will be in the negative!

What is an ideal PE class?
How and what should an ideal 45 minutes of a PE class look like? How do we ensure that not just eight but every child in the class participates for the entire duration, learns and improves on both their physical skills and life skills as they play? Let’s try to paint that picture.

In physical education, unlike other subjects, students learn by simultaneously putting their body and mind to action. Students need to have an opportunity to Do, to Think and to Decide. More the opportunities created for them to do so, the better it is for student learning.

They need adult supervision, since there is a need to provide guidelines, demonstrate the right techniques and set ground rules. An adult (in this case the PE teacher) can pose some very interesting problems to them in the form of interesting games. The games (problems) need to be collaborative, strategic and skill based. Students can only play the game well if they work together; communicate with each other and apply or practice a specific physical skill such as manipulation, agility, core muscle strength, etc.

Kiran Ma’am, (GSSS Khuda Kalan)
Apart from this, the teacher needs to ensure that the students are warmed up, i.e., their muscles have optimum blood circulation and the respiratory system is functioning with high efficiency. Post the game session, students need to stretch their muscles and “cool down” their body before ending the session.

Teachers need to create intervals such as ‘timeouts’ to help the students reflect on their on-field behaviour, their performances and strategies used. The best way to do this is by asking them open-ended questions.

For example, the discussion could go like this –

PE Teacher: “Rohit, why did you not pass the ball to Rama even when she was right next to the goal post?”

Rohit: “I felt uncomfortable passing it to her because she is a girl and they can’t play football well.”

PE Teacher to the group: “But what makes you believe that girls can’t play, she was positioning herself very well, and how do you think you can help her?”

This question then opens up the discussion on gender and gender roles for the class.

What stops physical education teachers from taking classes in a government school setup?

Absence of grade specific curriculum
The crux of teaching physical education is the teacher’s ability to pose interesting problems (games) to the students which has several moments to reflect and learn from. PE teachers require grade specific/age-appropriate curriculum as a base to come up with lesson plans consisting of age-appropriate games.

Sadly, most states do not have that sort of a curriculum. Government school PE teachers often find themselves with no content to fall back on and use as a guideline.

Absence of teacher-training
All of us agree on the importance of in-service teacher training. In states like Haryana, there has been no in-service training for PE teachers (government schools) for the last 10 years. Thus, PE teachers in government schools miss out on peer learning as well as latest pedagogic interventions.

The perceived role of a PE teacher
The role of the PE teacher in the eyes of the principal and the school staff is limited to disciplining the children, managing celebrations on national days, putting together competitive sports teams and performing administrative duties. The PE period is always sacrificed if some other teacher has failed to complete his/her syllabus. This results in PE teachers not getting adequate time to teach.

A closed mindset of the school system

Manoj Sir
Moreover, other subject teachers also tend to have a very unidimensional view towards PE. It is increasingly difficult for a PE teacher to convince class teachers to give them children for their PE slot. This reluctance comes from an ingrained mindset of the school system that academics is more important than PE and sports is for children who are not good in academics. All of these factors puts the PE teacher in the lowest range of the school hierarchy. They never get the same treatment or respect that a math or a science teacher gets.

In the government system, district education officials perceive a PE teacher’s job as limited to hunting athletic talent and curating sports teams. This further reinforces the belief that PE for all the students is expendable.

The effects on children
Children in India play for 18 minutes a week while the global average is over 200 minutes. It has been well established that cognitive learning has a very strong relationship with physical education. PE is a great medium to teach students the ever important citizenship skills.

Since the PE teacher perceives his/her job to curate sports team for schools, they often end up building a perception of fear and strictness amongst the children, and not that of friendship and mentorship. Thus, the relationship they share is not that of trust but of respect due to fear. As the PE teacher participates only on the ground during team selections, most of the children do not have access to play. Only those children who are selected are given equipment to play and the training required for that particular sport. Thus, a PE teacher’s quest for excellence translates into pushing a majority of the children to the sidelines.

Urgent need to empower our PE teachers
In the government system, PE is near dysfunctional since we have set wrong goals. The moment we start seeing PE as a learning opportunity, we will start thinking about grade specific curriculums, assessments and in-service teacher training models. We also need to recognize that it is the education administration’s responsibility to provide these three vital elements to our PE teachers.

This article does paint a grim picture of the current situation. But there is a silver lining too. From our experience of working with 100-odd teachers in northern India, we have been inspired to see teachers going out of their way to ensure PE for their children, in spite of the circumstances that surround them.

Game Name: Pin Down

Skills covered: Throw, Agility
Required equipment: Hula hoops, Bibs, Cones, Domes, Footballs
Max number of students: 16-20
Age group: 8-14 (years)

Instructions
• Make two teams of equal strength.
• Attacking team will stand outside of the square made as a set up field. Defender team will be inside the square.
• Put 10 cones inside 10 hula hoops inside the setup field.
• Attackers have to put down the cones by throwing footballs.
• The defender team will defend the cones which are set up inside the hula hoops.
• Time limit will be 4 minutes. The team to hit the maximum cones will win.

Problem to be solved
For attacker team – To drop as many cones as possible in a span of 4 minutes
For defender team – To save the cones from dropping and not letting the other team score

Possible debrief questions:

  1. How did you decide who will cover a certain area of a field while defending? Why did you assign the person to the specific area?
  2. Which team won more number of times? Did the team that won do better than the team that lost?

Design principles test
• Maximum participation
• Minimum instruction
• Grade/age specific
• Problem solving
• Time bound

Game Name: Kick Ball

Skills covered: Kicking, catching, running, change of direction and throwing
Required equipment: Football, domes
Max number of students: 16-20
Age group: 8-10 (years)

Instructions

  • Divide the class into two groups (attackers and defenders).
  • The field will have four base points, which the attacker team has to cover. Each attacker has to reach all the bases to score one point for his team. Each half will be of 10 minutes.
  • One defender will roll the ball towards the attackers and the attacker has to kick the ball anywhere in the field.
  • The defenders either have to catch the ball (directly) or if caught after a bounce they have to get it back on the base before the attacker reaches.
  • After every kick, the attacker can cover as many bases as possible before the defender team reaches the base points with the ball.
  • If attacker does not reach the base before the ball then he will get out but if the attacker reaches the base, he continues, while the next team member kicks the ball.

* This game is exactly like baseball without the bat.

Problem to be solved
For the attacker team – To ensure each player reaches as many base points as possible in 10 minutes. For the defender team – To ensure the attacker team is able to cover minimum base points in 10 minutes.

Possible debrief questions
1) Did you agree with the strategy made by your captain? Did he ask you for your opinion while making this strategy?
2) What strategy did you use to defend effectively? What do you think you could have done better?

Design principles test
• Maximum participation
• Minimum instruction
• Grade/age specific
• Problem solving
• Time bound

Game Name: Treasure hunt

Skills covered: Running, communication and coordination
Required equipment: Cones, Footballs
Max number of students: 25-30
Age group: 6-10 (years)

Instructions

  • Divide the class into two teams.
  • Place 30-40 cones in the field and keep 20 balls randomly under them.
  • One student of each team will run, select one cone, lift the cone and find the treasure (tennis balls).
  • If they find a tennis ball underneath the cone, then they can take the ball to their team. And tag the next team player.
  • If they find the empty cone, then they have to place the cone again and run back and tag the next team member.
  • The team that gets the maximum number of balls in a span of five minutes wins.

Problem to be solved
To find and bring back as many tennis balls back to your team as possible in five minutes.

Possible debrief questions

  1. How well did your team communicate to ensure you did not waste your chances selecting already checked cones?
  2. Did all the teammates shouting different instructions make it confusing to select the right cones? Do we perform better if we get instructions from one source instead of many?

Design principles test
• Maximum participation
• Minimum instruction
• Grade/age specific
• Problem solving
• Time bound

Aditi Mutatkar is a former ace international badminton player who has won a Commonwealth Games silver medal for India in 2010. She has a post graduate degree in Public Affairs from The University of Texas, in Dallas. She is part of the curriculum design team of the Art of Play Foundation, an organization committed to improving the quality of physical education in government schools. She can be reached at [email protected].

Hemanta Mahanta is post-graduate in social work from Utkal University, and has been working in leading education non-profits for last six years. He is responsible for the teacher training programme for physical education teachers in Haryana. He can be reached at [email protected].

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