Sports at a crossroads in India
In recent years, several large private schools in India have started advertising their sports offerings as a unique selling point for increasing student admissions. Rather than promoting sports and physical education (PE) as part of a holistic education model, they usually cater to the dreams of students, their parents and the general nationalistic sentiment of winning medals at global competitions. Dreaming big and having role models in sport is essential to building a positive culture of physical activity (PA) with social impact, but the balance is currently uneven.
There are exceptions to this norm. Through my personal experience of attending boarding school in India, I was lucky to study in an environment where we were provided sports facilities, PE teachers and sports coaches, along with adequate time to engage in PA. The emphasis was on learning and growing through sports, being physically active and enjoying your time “on the field”. Winning or losing were seen as by-products. My participation in these programmes taught me important life lessons which I could not have found in any classroom or textbook. These included teamwork, leadership, integrity, discipline and fairplay, which have aided me in several facets of my life.
My school experience informed me of the critical role of sports and PE in promoting core values and life skills within the education system, which can lead to improved learning outcomes for students. Along with ensuring sports and PE for all students, the education system should provide a supportive and enabling environment for those who have the interest and motivation to play at a competitive level. However, there is long way to go in achieving “Sport4All” across public and private education institutes in India. Many not only lack the vision and conviction to provide sport and PE to all students as a fundamental right, but most do not have the space, resources and personnel to do so.
Bridging this gap has been the crux of Pro Sport Development’s (PSD) mission, working primarily with under-resourced schools catering to children from low-income families. PSD uses sports and PA as means to build soft-skills, promote gender equality and create young leaders. The programmes have positive benefits for children’s physical and mental health, tackling growing issues of sedentary lifestyles and academic pressures. PSD has developed structured curricula, provides facilitators and sports equipment to deliver programmes and has transformed playgrounds and trained local resource persons to make sport and PA a regular and sustainable feature of these schools. More importantly, PSD has created awareness among teachers, parents and communities about the crucial benefits of sport as an integral part of a quality education.
PSD envisions growing this work while engaging with government authorities to advocate the benefits of structured, goal-oriented sports programmes provided to all school students. PSD aims to share best practices to inform and rejuvenate public policy to ensure sport is accepted as part of quality education, and acknowledged as a tool beyond just winning medals.