The whole child approach to education is defined by policies, practices, and relationships that ensure each child, in each school, in each community, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. It engages all stakeholders – educators, families, policy makers and community members.
Since the mid-20th century, societies around the globe have undergone an accelerating pace of change in economy and technology. Its effects on the workplace, and thus on the demands on the educational system preparing students for the workforce, have been significant.
The 21st century skills, a series of higher-order skills, abilities, and learning dispositions have been identified as a key requirement for success in the 21st century society and workplaces by educators, business leaders, academics, and governmental agencies. These are critical to meet the ongoing demands of the increasingly fast changing digital workplace and society.
Many of these skills are also associated with deeper learning, including analytic reasoning, complex problem solving, and teamwork, compared to traditional knowledge-based academic skills. The development of these life skills is a life long process and has to start from early childhood.
We know that students do better in school when they are emotionally and physically healthy. There is less absenteeism, are less likely to engage in risky or antisocial behaviour, concentrate more, are more confident and achieve higher test scores.
Research has proved that physical education programmes not only improve physical fitness, health, but also benefit students by improving life skill development, reinforcing self-discipline, supporting academic achievement, reducing stress, strengthening peer relationships, improving self-confidence and self-esteem, and teaching goal setting.
The opportunity to participate in and enjoy sport and play is a human right as per the Charter for Physical Education and Sport adopted by UNESCO in 1978.
Sports are essential for human development and are not just for recreational purposes. Sport benefits are far more than perceived. They cut across all age groups, barriers and sectors in society. Besides
physical development, sport empowers individuals, fosters team work, decision making, critical thinking and develops leadership abilities- essential 21st century skills.
Organized physical activity through effective teaching of physical education develops age appropriate physical, mental, social, emotional and interpersonal skills of children in a progressive manner.
While the benefits of exercise among children/youth are well-established, the availability of organized, quality physical activity opportunities in schools has been a challenge. Focus is more on core subjects and academic achievements. Increased awareness about the positive role of sport mostly after performances of Indian sport persons in international sport arenas such as Olympics, Common Wealth Games, Asian Games has seen more schools partnering with external organizations to encourage meaningful and research-based physical activity programmes shown to improve student overall outcomes.
Drawing on the best holistic approaches and recognizing that children have multiple intelligences, The Whole Child Initiative identifies five kinds of learning that we like to see each child exposed to, every day if possible. They are:
- Cognitive-intellectual activity, associated with the left brain
- Creative-intuitive activity (the arts), associated with the right brain
- Structured physical movement and unstructured, self-directed play
- Handwork, making things that can be useful
- Engagement with nature and community.
Most critical requirement is continuous sensitization of the policy makers, education management boards, teachers, parents and community members. They need to understand the significant role of physical education/ activity in the development of the child. Schools need to encourage play that exercises students’ active, creative, and decision-making abilities.
Stakeholders across the education spectrum especially teachers and families can foster such play in fun, non judgmental and safe environments. Sport and physical activities ensure inclusive growth and learning.
On a global level, in line with the International Olympic Committee’s ( IOC) mission to include sport in school curricula worldwide and to promote Olympic values-based education, IOC in partnership with UNESCO and several other international organizations have come up with the action-oriented Quality Physical Education (QPE) Guidelines urging Governments and Educational Planners to invest in the quantity and quality of Physical Education and Sport they offer.
As a Sport Development expert, I would like to emphasize the importance of Physical Education and School Sport and the need for it to be integrated in the mainstream curriculum and within the daily time table of schools along with providing quality training to teachers and learning resources.
Incorporating healthy lifestyle supports student life directly and relates to classroom performance—a healthy student is a student better equipped for learning.
Physical fitness supports socio-emotional growth of students and the well-being of teachers. School-based physical initiatives have empowered academic achievement, improved attendance and enhancedoverall students’ ability to learn.
Inclusive physical activity and sports is an intrinsic part of the whole child education.