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May 05, 2021 Wednesday 11:52:48 AM IST

All Study and No Play?

Cover Story

Are our schools and colleges becoming dull places for students with emphasis on academics and not sports or extra-curricular activities? Parents also want their children to focus more on studies to get a job rather than worry about their physical fitness or interest in sports.

As per the stipulation of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) there should be one teacher for every 500 students at the Middle School and Secondary levels and sports ground with a 200 metre athletic track. Yet many schools lack those facilities.  "Physical activity is required in Early Childhood Education (ECE) to develop the fine motors skills of children. If skills are known to a child for whichever sport they are interested in, they will play," according to Judeson Peter, Senior Physical Education  (PE) Instructor. Life is not all about study and work. "If students are involved in sports, their academic performance, memory retention capacity, comprehension and critical thinking skills will go up. Parents and teachers are not aware of this fact," Nixon Joseph, President and COO of SBI Foundation and a marathoner said.

Improving Cognition

Indeed a recent study done by University of Geneva (UNIGE) on academic performance and cardio-respiratory fitness of school students corroborates such views. Marc Yanguez, researcher at UNIGE Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences (FPSE) and Charles Hillman, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston and co-author of the study pointed out that cardio-respiratory fitness helps in improving executive functions. There are three major executive functions- 1) inhibition- the ability to inhibit intrusive or irrelevant behaviour or thoughts. 2) cognitive flexibility-the ability to flexibly move between tasks or responses based on task demands and finally working memory- our ability to maintain information in our minds and manipulate it.

Marc Yanguez opined that results of the study underline the importance of not reducing physical activity (and in particular PE hours) in favour of other subjects as it could affect the holistic development of a child. The study also challenges the idea of forcing children to study more and spend more time at their desks to succeed at school, depriving them of physical exercise. (See Box for details of research).

NEP2020 on PE

India’s New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has rightfully emphasised sports-integration as a cross -curricular pedagogical approach that utilises physical activities including indigenous sports. Such inclusions in pedagogical practices will help in developing skills such as collaboration, self-initiative, self-direction, self-discipline, teamwork, responsibility, citizenship etc. Fitness should become the life-long attitude of a child and Fit India movement aims to facilitate it.

S Premananda Singh, Assistant Professor at National Sports University in Manipur feels that lack of a single governing body for setting standards, implementation of PE and sport coaching is the need of the hour. “PE is not about physical aspects or play, it is about all-round development of an individual and hence it should become a compulsory subject,” he added.

Dr Newton Luiz, Pediatrician, Dhanya Mission Hospital, Thrissur, Kerala pointed out that children aged 6-17 years should engage in physical activity for an hour a day. “Let children enjoy unstructured play and let the focus be on fun and not success in competitive sports,” he said.

“Homework should be restricted to 1 hour in lower primary school, 2 hours in upper primary, 3 hours in high school, 3-4 hours in college. Children are incapable of doing more, so when they sit longer they daydream a lot, lose focus, and simply waste time, even when they genuinely believe they are studying.”

PE and Health

There has been a huge growth in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart ailments, liver problems, hypertension which increases morbidity rate and contributes to lesser quality of life and early death.  At a recent webinar orgainsed by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), it was revealed that liver ailments are becoming common and affects one third of India’s population.

Dr Ashish Kumar, Senior Consultant at Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi said faulty diet and lifestyle contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and an increase in alcohol abuse, which leads to alcoholic liver disease.

"Weight reduction using diet and exercise is the most important treatment of NAFLD as for Indian population a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 23 is considered normal and should be the target to achieve. People with BMI =23 are considered 'overweight' and those with BMI =25 are considered 'obese,' even if the target BMI of <23 is difficult to achieve for many obese people, at least few kilogramme of weight loss will still be beneficial.”

As per reports obesity is a scourge affecting the nation as as 35% of Indian population is insufficiently inactive.  All these point out the need for integrating PE in to education in a scientific manner.

When we are Fit, Nation is Fit

How is Fit India implemented in schools and how to become part of it?

Schools can be a part of Fit India Movement by organizing Fit India School week (usually notified in the month of November/December). They can also get certified as a “Fit India Certified School”. (Visit https://fitindia.gov.in/fit-india-school ).

What are the recommended hours for PE in schools and colleges and activities to be included?

In the criteria for Certified Fit India School, one criterion is “having all students spending 60 minutes or more on physical activities daily”. Hence a bare minimum of 1 hour of physical activity is essential. Programme components vary according to age categories. Fit India has developed scientific age appropriate Fitness Protocols and Guidelines for 5 to 18 years, 18 to 65 years and 65 and above. (Refer https://fitindia.gov.in/fitnessprotocols)

What kind of infrastructure and play equipments are required at the school level for effective implementation of PE?

By means of the Fit India School Certification System, Fit India encourages schools to develop minimum standards for PE and sports. Basic criteria for certification:

i. Have one teacher trained in PE, and such teacher is physically fit and active.

ii. Have a playground where two or more outdoor games are played.

iii. Have one PE period each day for every section and physical activities (sports, dance, games, yogasan, PT) take place in the PE period.

iv. Have all students spending 60 minutes or more on physical activities daily.

However, if any school is having more infrastructure and programme facilities then they shall get certified as Fit India 3 Star or 5 Star Schools. (See https://fitindia.gov.in/fit-india-school-registration ).

Has there been any assessment done of existing PE  in schools?

The Fit India School Certification is in one way Assessment Based Certification Procedure where schools facilities are assessed and certified by the Fit India Mission.

Research

Academics + PE = 100/100

Eight schools in canton of Geneva was chosen for a study on relationship between physical activity and cognitive development b y University of Geneva (UNIGE)  In all, 193 pupils aged 8 to 12 took part. They first took a 'shuttle run test' in which they had to run back and forth between two lines 20 metres apart at an increasingly fast pace. This was used to assess cardiovascular fitness along with height, weight, age and sex parameters. This was followed by nine tasks that tested the executive functions such as inhibition, cognitive flexibility and working memory.

Different indicators such as precision and speed of responses were noted. For example, one of the tests of inhibition presents students with images of fish swimming. The central fish can either swim in the same direction as the others or in the opposite direction. The students have to indicate as quickly and accurately as possible the direction in which the central fish is swimming when they are only shown the picture for 200 milliseconds.

To measure cognitive flexibility, the students took three tests as well, one of the tests asked the students to connect in ascending order numbers and letters (1-A-2-B-3-C, etc.). In one of the working memory tests, the students had to memorize a sequence of numbers, such as 2 6 4 9 7, and then repeat them in the reverse order. In addition, at the end of the year, the teachers, with the parents’ consent, transmitted the students’ marks for the three terms of the year in mathematics, French 1 (comprehension and expression of text) and French 2 (grammar, spelling and vocabulary).

By combining the data obtained the scientists Marc Yanguez, researcher and Julien Chanal, Master of Teaching and Research at UNIGE Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences (FPSE) at UNIGE demonstrated the link between better cardio-respiratory fitness and higher marks in Mathematics and French. The link between fitness and academic performance was indirect. Physical activity improves executive functions that lead to better academic scores. (Source: UNIGE) 

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