Transforming education through sport
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What is the role of sport in education, and how can sport change the course of education?

In 2018, the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 24 January as International Day of Education, to mark the importance of education in the promotion of peace and development. This year, it will be celebrated under the theme ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education.’ Sport is an important factor which has the potential to act as a transformational force in changing the course of education.

Popular understanding versus research

Popular understandings of the relationship between sport and education vary across different regions in the world. Sport is seen as an outlet of growth and important recreational avenue in many parts of the world, affirming the potential role of sport in promoting and enhancing education. On the other hand, sport is often viewed as a ‘burden’ in the context of education in many other parts of the world. In these countries, the belief is that sport distracts students from focusing on their academic performance, implying a zero-sum relationship between sports and academics.

Studies assessing the impact of sport on education have had varying findings. Some research supports the notion that participation in sport and physical activities has a positive impact on academic performance and efficiency. Though there are very few studies that establish a direct link between involvement in sport and improvement in academic performance, most research does conclude that sport plays a significant role in advancing children’s cognitive functions like attention, concentration and focus, which further helps their education.

Many countries are realising the potential of sport in the overall development of individuals and are working towards incorporating sport in education policies. For example, the Indian National Education Policy 2020 recognises the value of sport and mandates sport as an integral part of the curriculum.

Integrating sport in education policies

The integration of sport in education policies is essential in order to enhance the overall educational outcomes and challenge the notion of sport as a ‘burden’ which takes away from academic and educational performance.

However, it is important that educational outcomes must not be only limited to academic success but should also be based on different aspects of learning like communication, socio-emotional learning, leadership skills and teamwork. This is especially important in an increasingly fragmented world, where differences and divides are in dire need to be bridged.

Further, we must value physical literacy as much as we value other forms of literacy. Indeed, physical literacy, i.e., the ability, confidence, and desire to be physically active for life, is an important part of the holistic development of a healthy individual.

Often, sport is integrated into education by incorporating physical education as an academic subject. However, as is true with most sports-based programming, programmes must be designed purposefully, in order to achieve the intended outcomes.

UNESCO’s quality physical education guidelines and recommendations promote active, inclusive, and peer-led learning. This is a great way of including sport in education policies as it promotes overall skill development, empowering youth to think critically and communicate effectively. If sport is presented this way, it will inculcate of a value-system in children and youth, making them healthy, resilient and socially responsible citizens, which is essential as we build back from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Changing course, transforming education

The nature of integration and inclusion of sport in education policies needs to be considered in order to make a meaningful impact. A host of factors like nature of education system, mindsets, capacity, and resources can influence the execution of education policies. These factors vary across regions and are many times unequal.

Even though there are constraints, policymakers must recognise the myriad of ways in which sport can contribute to the overall literacy and education of people and find practical ways in which a quality sports education policy can be implemented within their contexts. Integrating sport into education is integral to enhancing the transformational capacity of education, as we build back better in a post-COVID world.

What do you think about this issue? How can sport be better integrated into education policies and contribute towards better educational outcomes? Send us your thoughts as an article (email: [email protected]) or leave your comments below (note: you must sign in to access and post comments). View article guidelines here.


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