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The Need For Social Distancing May Continue To Hamper Children’s Engagement With Sport: Parminder Gill, Sportz Village Foundation

In an exclusive talk with BW Education, Parminder Gill, Co-Founder and Head, Sportz Village Foundation, spoke about the organization and more.

How has the Coronavirus crisis and the lockdown imposed thereafter impacted the students from lower-income groups?  

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a change in the lifestyle of individuals, especially students. It is estimated that more than 1.5 billion students of all ages around the world have been affected by the abrupt closure of schools and educational institutions. Children from vulnerable communities are particularly affected because of a sudden loss of livelihood among family members as well as the inaccessibility of digital platforms to continue learning. The continuing lockdowns have confined children within the four walls of their homes for long periods of time – without access to any physical activity or sport – making them highly vulnerable to physical and emotional health-related issues.

How will you involve the students in sports activities maintaining the social distancing norms, post-pandemic?   

Even after schools re-open, post lockdown period, the need for social distancing may continue to hamper children’s engagement with sport. This may require us to reimagine some of the key elements and practices of sports education in schools and communities to ensure equitable participation to the maximum extent possible.  

We also expect the schools to reopen in ‘restrictive’ conditions (once the lockdowns ease) – in that only a third of the student population of a school may be able to attend the school at any given time, this means, educators will have to necessarily rely on ‘blended’ delivery of programs – including sport and academics – to children at their homes, communities, and schools. 

The following are some measures that can be undertaken with respect to:  

Curriculum 

  1. Prioritizing only certain aspects of fitness and skill development based on – whether the engagement needs to happen at home, community and schools 

  1. Structured curriculum modified for no/low contact drills and games in smaller groups to ensure “1m gap” – including activities such as yoga, martial arts etc. 

  1. Supervision of the curriculum by a ‘trained’ teacher  

  1. Reinforcement of hygiene practices in age-specific formats 

Training of the teachers in the following focus areas 

  1. Delivery of modified 'low-contact' curriculum 

  1. COVID-19 related hygiene practices and protocols  

How can sports help in maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of children?  

Playing is a natural impulse of all children and their chosen way to engage in a social context. This activity is used as an opportunity to further bond with their friends and peers. Depriving children of physical activity could result in a multitude of problems ranging from lower levels of physical dexterity and fitness to psychological or emotional dysfunction. In times of the outbreak, access to trusted sources of information, adoption of good hygienic practices and maintaining higher immunity levels (that result mainly from physical well-being) are key requirements to limit the spread of infection. The complete absence of physical activity and sport – both structured and unstructured - can prove to be catastrophic and leave our children highly vulnerable.  

Moreover, physical health and mental well-being is one of the key outcomes from any sport and physical activity program designed to run in schools or communities. The World Health Organization has developed a report titled, ‘Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030,’ which clearly brings out the multiple health, social and economic benefits of regular physical activity and how that can contribute towards achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Tell us about the current projects that Sportz Village Foundation is doing with the corporate partners to help these children during such trying times.  

Due to the ongoing outbreak, children across the country have become highly vulnerable because of the lower health and immunity levels, as they have lost access to all forms of physical activity. As an immediate response, Sportz Village Foundation (SVF) has created a unique framework to keep children safe and healthy during the outbreak.  

Virtual (remote) delivery of sports education to keep children active and healthy

  1. Online/digital program: For children who have some level of digital access in their homes, SVF has created an appropriate digital module to engage with children through a structured physical activity program. The digital tool called ‘Play At Home’ works asynchronously – and has been specifically designed to engage children from marginalized homes with minimal access/ bandwidth.  

  1. Offline/tool based program: For the large majority of children who do not have online access, SVF has created an offline tool (printed, gamified workbooks) – called ‘Race Around India’ - that allows children to be part of an ongoing physical activity program. These workbooks will be available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Kannada – and will include other languages based on the region/ community.

Building awareness of preventive health and personal hygiene to keep children safe during the outbreak 

  1. SVF has created an activity-based module that maps critical preventive health and personal hygiene-related behaviours such as social distancing, handwashing, usage of clean water and consumption of adequate nutrition - to the baseline physical activity program - to help children inculcate new behaviours to stay safe and healthy during the outbreak.  

How will you streamline the needs of the students taking into consideration the New Education Policy 2020?  

The New Education Policy 2020 has outlined a number of important guidelines for educators in regard to integrating and promoting ‘play’ (includes physical activity and sport) in the learning process: 

  1. The early child program (ECCE): This program will be brought under the formal schooling system (under 5+3+3+4 scheme) – and will mainly focus on ‘play’ or ‘activity’ based curriculum. This aligns with our long-held view that play can be used to create highly effective learning environments – especially in the early years and primary school programs.  

  1. Multi-disciplinary curriculum delivery: This guideline is focussed on blurring the line between curricular and extra-curricular courses – and aims to integrate innovative themes like play/ sport and art within the mainstream subjects/academics.  

  1. Focus on activity-based and experiential learning: This guideline will also aid educators to experiment with themes like play/ sport as part of their learning environment – because play/ sport as a tool, lends very well to experiential learning. 

  1. Focus on building 21st-century skills: 21st-century skills focus on developing both cognitive and non-cognitive skills in education. Sport/play is an important tool that has an inherent ability to impart both these skills/ learnings to children. 

Government initiatives that could help in uplifting the state of the underprivileged students.  

GOI/ MHRD has already shared its guidance on engaging children across the country through a multi-mode (digital/broadcast/textbooks), and blended (home/community/schools) curriculum delivery during the outbreak. While educators across the country have been creating appropriate content for online/digital and text-books/workbooks – targeting children at their homes/ communities in present times, the government can specifically help in supporting the educators (from the public, NGO and private segments) with broadcast channels such as Radio and TV that have a much larger reach than online/internet-based engagement.  

Government bodies could also direct the existing (public) school managements to build an outreach program and proactively create a comprehensive database of school students – and their existing situation – and analyse the levels of accessibility through phone/internet. This data would help educators to create appropriate content/channels to support these children during the outbreak.  



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