Theo Garrun

SA schoolkids need to play sport again

If South African pupils can be in close contact with each other in the classroom, why can't they play sport outdoors, asks THEO GARRUN.

The importance of sport in schools became really apparent in its absence this year. All school sport was halted in March and it only resumed, in a limited fashion, in November. The entire winter season didn’t happen, neither did the start of the summer season in the third term.

The schools were closed down and online learning became a new phenomenon. In some cases that included online encouragement to pupils to stay active and engage in some sort of training regime.

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Many admirable attempts were made but there’s no substitute for the real thing and there were reports of children becoming anxious and even depressed at not being able to get out there and run around with their friends.

In June they were allowed to go back to school – the Grade 7s and 12s first, with the rest, bit by bit, in the months that followed. The conditions laid down included a ban on all school sport. That was relaxed a bit towards the end of the year but returning to normal interschool activity isn’t allowed.

Clearly, the health of the children has to take precedence, but there seems to be little sense in allowing children to return into classrooms, where they are in close contact with each other, in enclosed spaces, but not allowing them to engage in sporting activities, in the outdoors, with limited physical contact.

Sport is unquestionably part of the educational process in schools, not a nice-to-have add-on that can be dropped just to be safe rather than sorry.

At the same time, however, the sporting programmes that I tend to speak of do not exist in the majority of schools. Only 5,000 of the 25,000 schools in the country, according to research, meet the lowest standard of functionality: teaching and learning taking place on a daily basis.

In many of those schools, there are issues of attendance, buildings are in disrepair, there are no sports fields and there is often no electricity or running water. When Covid-19 struck there were bigger fish to fry for the authorities than wondering how sport could be safely practised in schools.

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It’s about inherited inequality and what should have been done to redress the situation. Fixing those schools should be one of the top priorities; sadly it hasn’t been.

And included in fixing them should be the establishment and upkeep of sporting facilities and the introduction of well planned and efficiently run sports development programmes. Without that, we will never have the organic shift in the demographic composition of teams which everyone desires and which at the moment can only be achieved through compulsory racial quotas.

But, most importantly, it’s about preparing all our children as well as we can for their futures and there’s no question that sport plays a massive part in that. Everyone should be given the chance to play. Don’t stop them because we think the lessons taught outside the classroom are not as important as the ones taught inside.

– Garrun is a veteran schools rugby writer. This is an edited version of an article from his blog.