Beyond the mid-day meal: The prospect of sports in tackling dropout rates

The need of the hour is to ensure that children have access to both, health and education

Mr Ashish Kumar Ballal is Former Indian Hockey Captain, Arjuna awardee, Ekalavya awardee - Olympian & Asian games gold medallists. Mr Ajay Kavishwar is the Director: PR, Planning and Advocacy at The Akshaya Patra Foundation.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Children represent one-third of the total population of India ─ a very large section of the country’s human resource. Today’s children are the future of our country. The need of the hour is to ensure that children have access to both, health and education.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a flagship programme by the Government of India for the Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE), currently addresses the needs of 192 million children. The Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme under the umbrella of SSA, is implemented with the primary objective of enhancing school enrollment, retention and attendance rates and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children.

While the MDM Scheme incentivises education and addresses classroom hunger, it is time to focus on improving the learning experience in schools by introducing co-curricular activities such as sports. The inclusion of sports in schools can increase children’s interest in school activities and give them an impetus to continue their education, eventually leading to a decrease in dropout rates.

Sports can contribute towards children’s overall development. It can supplement academics and facilitate in developing skilled and healthier children. Taking up a sport can help children learn valuable skills and develop essential qualities such as teamwork, discipline, punctuality, perseverance and fair play, which they can integrate into activities of everyday life. It also allows children to build their personality by improving their self-esteem and confidence. In addition, sports in schools can also create a cohesive learning environment.

The ‘International Inspiration-Sports for Development’ programme, supported by UNICEF and the Government of India, aims to increase awareness and acceptance of sport as a key part of children’s education and development. This programme was started in the district of Chandrapur, Maharashtra. A girl and a boy from more than 500 villages are recruited and trained in how sports can educate, inform and be used for development. They are then sent back to train children in local schools and communities where physical education and sports are not generally taught. Teachers in these schools have in fact noted that children now like to come to school; they are more interested in school and dropouts are becoming less.

The incentive to attend school regularly can be offered in innovative ways. The Kovalam Surf Club, located in Kovalam, Kerala, offers free surfing lessons to children from underserved communities under one condition─ "No school - No surfing". The Club started off with just 5 to 10 children learning how to surf; today, it has around 40 members ─ local boys and girls from Kovalam and the surrounding villages who are regular at school and have surfing to look forward to, after school hours.

In order to treat school education holistically from pre-nursery to class 12, the ‘Samagra Shiksha’ Scheme has been proposed in the Union Budget of 2018-19 by the Government of India. The purpose of this Scheme is to improve school effectiveness, which will be measured in terms of equal opportunities for schooling and equitable learning outcomes. Under the Samagra Shiksha Scheme, the Government will fund all 11.5 lakh Government schools for the purchase of sports equipment, with the aim of promoting sports and having at least one hour being devoted to sports every day in these schools.

The school infrastructure also plays a key role in the successful implementation and sustainability of such programmes. Unavailability of coaches for various sports in schools could also hinder efforts to introduce sports in schools. NGOs could thus support the Government’s efforts by providing trainers for coaching children, as well as working toward long-term goals of creating a large pool of sportspersons and coaches for the country. Under an initiative by The Akshaya Patra Foundation, children who take a keen interest in playing sports such as football, are trained in the sport by mentors from various institutions and organisations.

While children gain nourishment through the mid-day meal, the active pursuit of sports can improve their health, help them focus better in class, enhance their overall learning experience, and act as an incentive for completing school education. In the future, well-nourished children supported by the benefits of sports, can achieve more success in several fields and contribute to the growth of the country.

Author: Ashish Kumar Ballal who is the Former Indian Hockey Captain, Arjuna awardee, Ekalavya awardee - Olympian & Asian games gold medallists.

Co-Authored by: Ajay Kavishwar who is the Director: PR, Planning and Advocacy at The Akshaya Patra Foundation.

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