A well-thought, modern sports education curriculum will help our youth become useful members of the international workforce of 21st century
In Pakistan, the understanding of sports as an integral part of quality education is far from ideal. While quality education is defined by the UN as "an education that focuses on development of the whole child covering the social, emotional, physical, mental and cognitive development regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or geographical location, preparing the child for challenges and responsibilities of life and not just for testing and grades".
Our education system, private or public, lacks the aspect of holistic child development integrating sports, games and physical education.
None of the education policies, from 1959 to 2010, discusses physical education or reviews physical education syllabus.
Despite introduction of new curriculum and stress given to several aspects of quality education, no attention has been paid to sports in educational institutions.
Leaders in physical education and sociology in the United States joined forces for the development of playgrounds and public parks in the major cities before 1910.
During the first two decades of the 20th Century, Thomas Wood at Columbia University and Clark Hetherington at University of Missouri adapted the theoretical orientation of educational developmentalism to physical education which became known as "The New Physical Education".
It suggested that "sports and physical education is an educational agent and education in itself is neither for body nor for mind alone, but for all human powers that depend on educational activities for development".
Educationist and sociologist Jesse Williams succeeded Woods and dominated the scene of physical education from 1920 to 1950. His book "Principals of PE" went through six editions and was recommended to physical education students for more than 30 years.
While physical education and sports as an academic pursuit was undergoing a constant change in the US, Pierre Baron de Coubertin, a French educationist and the father of modern Olympics, was busy reviving the Olympic movement.
The idea of new Olympic Games had emerged from focus on liberal democratic and character building properties of school sports which were initially spelled by an English educator William Penny Brookes, who organised British Olympic Games in 1866.
In the early 20th Century, Luther Gulick, one of the most respected physical educators, said that physical education was not only a new profession but also a scientific field. Gulick and John Dewey later influenced the scope of physical education in American society.
Children and young people benefit tremendously from physical activity. Combined with school curriculum, physical activity and sports are necessary for comprehensive education. Sports provide lifelong learning and alternative education for children who cannot attend school. Learning team work, fair play, discipline, tolerance and respect for rules is essential for children.
The government of Germany has recognised this huge potential and has integrated sports for development as a cross-cutting theme into German Development Cooperation with special emphasis on education, employment and health.
In Uganda, disadvantaged children and young people are trained in running, throwing, jumping and traditional sports and the trainers besides quality coaching impart life skills, like health and social cohesion techniques through sports.
In Benin, the approach of physical and sports education is very interesting. Following a national forum on education in 2007, Benin's Ministry of Education undertook the development of an Early Childhood Education (ECE) programme based on holistic development of children aged two and a half to five years.
During the curriculum development process, the ministry highlighted the absence of "play-based learning" which is widely recognised as the foundation of early childhood development. The curriculum was adapted, and teachers were trained in play-based learning and early childhood pedagogy.
The ministry's capacity was reinforced to effectively implement the programme. So far, 3000 teachers and more than 90,000 children in Benin have benefitted through this programme.
In Pakistan, the entire focus is on higher education. A lot of attention was paid to producing PhDs, but little effort has been made to revamp the syllabus for developing much-needed life skills and motor skills among children.
Right to Play International, which works in many countries under the leadership of Norwegian speed skater and Olympic gold medallist Johann Olav Koss, also operates in Pakistan, though on a limited scale.
The organisation claims it has reached out to almost half a million children in 19 districts of Pakistan. Their major success has been with the governments of KP and Sindh in developing the physical education curriculum.
Recently, Right to Play worked with Directorate of Curriculum Assessment and Research (DCAR) in Sindh in four competency areas: fundamental motor skills development, sports education, physical fitness and development of positive social behaviour.
This is indeed a welcome effort. However, the lack of capacity of the government education departments has been a major hurdle in sustainable development.
We hope that these governments will benefit from the best practices worldwide and tap all possible resources while developing a comprehensive education syllabus for children of different age groups.
A well-thought, modern sports education curriculum will help in developing players who are capable of excelling in competitive sports. It will also help our youth develop much-needed life skills which will help them become useful and acceptable members of the international workforce of 21st century.