SPORTS occupies a disproportionate share of the pupils’ mind. Perhaps it is good that this is the case as sports enhances fitness, while teaching the spirit of teamwork and discipline. In short, sports contributes to character building while being enjoyable.
Those who love and/or have been involved in sports would have learned that the positive values from participation lasts a lifetime. Lives were prolonged. Personalities were shaped. Other than the excitement of winning, we learned to accept defeat, work as a team, socialise and be more responsible.
Public schools in England originally made games part of their curriculum to counter acts of violence and brutality among students. While it was a means to a disciplinary end, moralities were born while students were toughened up.
Thus, it was not just rhetoric that prompted the saying, famously attributed to the Duke of Wellington: “The Battle of Waterloo was won at the playing fields of Eton”.
Many may argue that character formation could arise through several ways, but isn’t sports one of them? The very notion of competitive sports has been questioned by several quarters. Teachers may not like it as it may mean extra burden on them to supervise pupils and taking their afternoons (or mornings) and weekends off. Parents may not like it as there will be little time left for their children to do their homework and attend tuition.
To those who argue sports does nothing for character building, I would say that at the very least, it reveals character.
The older generation will recall that in their days, a secondary school would typically have a field big enough to accommodate a football pitch and a hockey pitch. In other words, both football and hockey could be played simultaneously. Certainly the demise of the importance of playing fields and denying pupils the chance of playing on it due to stringent rules contribute to the neglect of sports by the young.
In this context, the decline of sports in Malaysia is alarming. Several proposals have been forwarded and implemented but failed, with officials, players and the media blaming each other. Perhaps the root of many of the problems can be found in the neglect of sports at the school level. While the nation debates on the academic performance of pupils, it is forgotten that the decline of organised sports in schools has been alarming. In fact, the trend in the past few decades is quite dispiriting.
Surely those who question the wisdom of reviving sports must know that denying pupils the importance of sports in school destroys their natural instinct to compete and socialise. Denying them this opportunity would mean excluding them from social circles they would like to be part of.
There is no short cut to success and no easy way for a quick solution. There must be a series of ambitious practical proposals to help prevent the erosion of sports further. What the country needs is an overall strategic plan for sport. Each association, affiliate and party concerned must do their bit and a responsible organisation - perhaps the Youth and Sports Ministry - be the coordinator and oversees the activities of each body. These proposals are not easy to accomplish, but the aims are noble. As long as there is concerted and dedicated effort, there is no reason to be pessimistic about the final outcome.
Creating a new sports curriculum is a useful starting point to revive interest in sports not only in schools but also in the country as a whole, even if reviving sports is bound to face stiff opposition. Though conflicts of interest between the Youth and Sports and the Education Ministries may arise in the planning stage, a compromise can be reached between the two ministries for the sake of youth building and the development of sports in this country. This can also help solve some of the problems posed by juvenile delinquents.
While it may not be practical to extend school hours, nevertheless all parties concerned can compromise to have the physical education (PE) class be taken more seriously by both teachers and pupils. Additional PE class can be held with adjustments in timetable without an extension of school hours.
An understanding can be reached between teachers, school authorities and parents to set aside certain Saturdays for sport activities. While this has been practised, it has not been taken seriously. Proper supervision will make Saturday’s activities more attractive and meet the approval of parents.
PE classes should also include elements of health science or hygiene relevant to the fitness and well being of the pupils. Different aspects of development of a person’s body must be made known to the pupils for their knowledge and good. This will help them understand the overall importance and benefit of PE classes and not just to impart the notion that sweating is good for them.
Of course, it may not be possible for every school to offer several sports as limits of finance, time, space or venue would see to it that a multisport menu may not be tenable. Schools therefore must identify their inherent strengths and uniqueness. The importance to be stressed here is that the sport activities offered to pupils must be within the means of all concerned to enable them to be well structured, vigorous, competitive and results-oriented.
It may also not in the best interests of all teachers to be trained to supervise more than one sport. Perhaps the Education Ministry could consider paying an allowance as incentive to those who are keen to combine classroom work with supervision and coaching on the pitch.
The implications of these proposals may stretch far beyond the boundaries of the education policy in this country. But if it is for the good for the nation, why not? The cry for improvement in sports indicates that though we may not have its institutionalised in us like the Americans, Australians and the British, we do care deeply about our nation’s sporting performance.
The Malay College Kuala Kangsar, the Royal Military College, Victoria Institution, Ipoh’s Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Anderson and ACS, and Convent Bukit Nanas, just to name a few, used to be noted for their sporting prowess along with academic excellence.
Those were the days when inter-school rivalry in sports was at its height. Was it a coincidence that academic performance of these schools were also high? And was it a coincidence that those were the days when sports in Malaysia were at their lofty heights? Probably not.
DR ARZMI YAACOB