One of the cricket matches played recently had a nail-biting finish. The chasing team needed 28 runs from 22 balls. Then 4 runs from 6 balls and, finally, one run from one ball. The batsman tapped the last ball and ran, barely making it to the non-striker's end, to the thunderous applause of his teammates, who ran joyously towards the ground to lift their two gallant heroes and paraded them back to the pavilion.
This is not a scene from one of the internationals that India was part of, but a well fought out game between our University students and members of Azim Premji Foundation, which included the faculty of Azim Premji University. That the average age of the Foundation team was above 45, nearly double that of the students, and yet managed to be victorious for the second time in a row made the game all the more exciting.
This annual staff versus students' match is an eagerly awaited fixture in our calendar. That the faculty side have had to overcome the challenges of physical fitness and endurance with students, who remain ever youthful with the induction of fresh blood every year, in no way dampens our spirits.
Beyond conquests, defeats, individual accomplishments and failures, what is critical is that we all come together and play in the true spirit of the game, striving to perform better, though many of us are well past our prime. We do not mind carrying a sour bowling arm or a niggling injury for the next few weeks; for, the joy derived from the game is far superior to the transitory pain! A certain camaraderie is generated amongst the players that gets carried beyond the playing arena.
This brings us to the question: how to infuse this spirit in our schools? Efforts are on to prepare champion sportspersons at the grassroots level to enable us to grow as a sporting nation at the international level through programmes such as "Khelo India". While these efforts should go on, there is a need to look at health and physical activities as an integrated and inseparable part of the school curriculum.
Need for an integrated school curriculum
Just the thought of envisioning an integrated curriculum poses multiple challenges in terms of availability of infrastructure like playgrounds and equipment, conducive environment for healthy and active life, medical facilities, and a trained resource pool of physical education and sports teachers across the country. Given the huge and diverse context of our country's school system, one could envisage a broader curriculum approach that would guide the school processes. We have tried to evolve one such approach for our schools at Azim Premji Foundation, with the following principles. There could be other variations of this.
Health and physical activities can provide inclusive spaces where all children are given opportunities to display and cultivate talent so that they are motivated and involved, and their self-confidence is nurtured. Teachers can create opportunities for all children to get recognition and appreciation. Excellence could be appreciated but it is more important that participation amongst all, especially the marginalized and disadvantaged, including children with special needs, is ensured.
2. Winning and Losing
Winning and losing a game should not become a matter of pride and promote comparisons between individuals. It should enable students to develop critical reflection in terms of the spirit in which they played the game, appreciating the effort of the other team, sensitively learning to handle disappointments and enjoying the game. This would be possible when the school allows discussions around the game apart from celebrating victories. Usually, selection of a few students for inter-school competitions becomes the objective. If there is a fair and democratic process to select students for competitions, with students' participation, they will be able to see things in a larger perspective.
3. Averting discrimination
Certain gender-biased practices inadvertently creep in while conducting physical education activities in many schools, such as having different games for boys and girls or making separate teams for boys and girls. Such practices emanate from the larger socio-cultural milieu, and are often discriminatory and against the spirit of our Constitution. It is perfectly fine for children of both genders to play together across all ages. Situations should be created where there are no separate teams or games based on gender, disabilities or talent except when children participate in events outside the schools.
4. Equal importance and status for health and physical education
National Curriculum Framework recognizes the importance of Health and Physical Education in schools and provides equal importance and treatment in the curriculum. Accordingly, apart from creating necessary infrastructure, our school processes should provide equal time in school calendar and teacher preparation for health and physical activities.
5. Parents' Participation
Rolling out a curriculum that advocates a significantly different approach, requires deep understanding and sensitivity among parents as well. They need to be aware of the changed approach, on why boys and girls should play together or why supporting an individual child's pursuit of excellence in a particular sport is not the priority of the school. Schools must make a conscious effort to have dialogues with parents on such issues during operationalizing these principles.
6. Role of Teachers
Teachers get to know their children better when they play with children. This way, play creates a sense of togetherness, bonding, and sensitivity towards each other. This will also break the stereo-type associated with physical education teacher and help manage the resource issue, especially in larger schools.
Unhealthy competition tends to promote comparisons, discourages cooperation and sensitivity to others. While no one can play with an intention to lose the game, the larger objectives of developing care and sensitivity amongst the children should be our prime focus.
While what is articulated may have overtly emphasized health and physical activities, the integrated approach encompasses other related programs such as nutritional mid-day meal, regular health check-up and hygiene practices as well as safety of children. This will ensure all round development of children in terms of physical, emotional / mental, social and intellectual dimensions.