Friday, June 8, 2018

Dirt Is Good

CBSE has directed all its schools to reserve one period daily from 2018-19 academic session for physical education for Std. IX-XII, because it wants to ‘mainstream’ the subject for holistic development of students. The Health and Physical Education (HPE) program will be a mandatory for all schools and CBSE will be releasing details about the curriculum in the near future. The board’s chairperson wrote to schools that, “CBSE has decided to mainstream HPE with the aim of holistic development of the child, leading to a well-balanced individual in all walks of life”. The letter added that the aim of mainstreaming HPE is also to enable the students to attain an optimum state of health. (Source TOI)
Although this step is hailed by Principals everywhere but the question remains that where is the time in the timetable to accommodate HPE? It also poses a challenge for CBSE schools that have integrated coaching tie-ups in Std XI and XII. Since majority of science stream students are focused on preparing for competitive exams, apart from boards, time is at a premium. A principal, said, “I think the HPE will be neglected big time by schools in Std XI and XII. Students are running a tight schedule by running between school, coaching classes and home.” Another principal who did not wish to be identified, said, “It’s a record now with CBSE that they start and stop things without any warning. Things that should be given at least a year, are done at the snap of the finger, as the groundwork is anyway going to be done by schools.” She mentioned that the announcement of reverting to traditional board exam was a sudden decision, followed by scrapping of options in English subject for Std. IX and X. (Source TOI)
Well of course every decision meets critical speculation and it takes time and efforts for its effective implementation. But the silver lining is the fact that an educational board has realized that “a healthy mind can only reside in a healthy body”. Competitive exams and the urge to get into much coveted colleges for a better future still remains the utmost desire of students and parents but as a Director and Principal I understand that school is not only about making the kids capable of establishing a good financial base for themselves in future. An educational institute focuses on ensuring the holistic development of the students. As I have discussed in one of my previous articles that sports are the way of life and physical fitness is the base of good mental health, this topic is of great interest to me.
Recently, I have been reading “You Your Child and School” by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica. They have dedicated a part of it on “Raising Them Strong”. In this chapter they comprehensively talk about the pressure and stress the kids face in the world of digital culture and social media, how excessive use of technology has badly affected the mental health of the kids and how the lack of physical activity is dragging them towards the negativities of the world. Fortunately, Robinson and Aronica suggest that the solution to all this problems is “Letting Them Play”. Before discussing this section Robinson emphasizes on the importance of sleep. He suggests that one of the best steps one can take for their children’s health and well being is to make sure they have not just the amount but also the quality of sleep they need. Once good sleep is ensured it’s important to get our children on their feet and moving. “Your children aren’t detached heads that float through your living room on occasion. They have bodies for a reason. It is generally recommended that young people should have about one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. We are embodied creatures, and the mind-body thing really is a package deal. Too many people neglect or misunderstand this relationship and seem to assume that their body is just a way of getting around and that the shape we are in has little to do with how we think and feel. In reality, the relationship is critical and inseparable.”
John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and Brain, says, “The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best than what it does for the body. In the roots of our biology, neuroscientists have found the signs of our body’s influence on the mind. It turns out that moving our muscles produces proteins that travel through the bloodstream and into the brain, where they play pivotal roles in the mechanisms of our highest thought processes.”
In chapter three “Know Your Child” Robinson mentions that our children are built to move, run, get dirty, collaborate and most importantly, play together. Sadly, they seem to that much less now. Playing is now confined to indoor structured games rather than something that happens outside in nature. Therefore, they get fewer opportunities for free, self-directed outdoor play. They also spend less time playing outside because of genuine parental fears. They are being over supervised and instructed during their play time. Is this ‘playing’? No, “Play is the primary way that children learn to understand and experience the world around them. Real play is unsupervised and self initiated. Unilever’s Dirt Is Good (DIG) campaign is rooted in the belief that children benefit enormously from enjoying unstructured, active and imaginative play as children have always done. In March 2016, Dirt Is Good launched a campaign called Free the Kids. The project team found out that on an average children spend less than one hour a day playing outdoor games. Shockingly, that is less than half the time outdoors each day that international law requires for maximum security prisoners. Therefore, The International Advisory Board for DIG lists six characteristics of real play:
·      Play is intrinsically motivated where means is more important than the ends
·      Real play is freely chosen, it is a state of mind.
·      Play is pleasurable
·      Play is nonliteral, it accommodated child’s interests and imaginations
·      Play is actively engaging
·      Play has no external rules
The reason I have mentioned these characteristics here is that CBSE will have to keep in mind that HPE doesn’t become another theoretical program with comprehensively laid out instructions and minimum practical benefits.
Under the topic ‘Why does play matter?’, Robinson explains that when children create their own games and rules it significantly enhances their development in all the ways that are essential for a happy childhood and for becoming independent adults. “There are powerful links between play and the physical development of healthy bodies. Active play has powerful effects on children’s cognitive, emotional and social development. When they are physically and emotionally fit they make better social relationships. In all of these ways, we can conclude that active play in childhood isn’t just important; it’s essential to becoming a happy and successful person in later life too. Considering all these points this move by CBSE can be considered revolutionary but its success will depend upon effective implementation.
Robinson says that even in this digital education culture children and teachers have genuine appetite to get out of the classroom and into the wider world that surrounds them. “One example is the runaway success of Outdoor Classroom Day. On this day, schools from every part of the globe take children outdoors to play and learn. Teachers report that children’s behaviour improves and individuals who feel inhibited by the curriculum thrive in the outdoor environment.” Kurt Hahn also suggests four antidotes to the declines of modern youth i.e., fitness training, expeditions, practical projects and rescue services.
“Safety is important but certain manageable levels of risk helps them deal with adversity, help them learn how to get up after scraping their knees.” Thriving mental health can only be ensured with physical fitness and taking measured risks. I hope the initiative taken by CBSE will work in this direction ensuring better mental and physical heath of students in future. 
In the end, I would conclude with this request to all the parents and guardians, “let your kids sleep, dream, get out, play, fall, fail, get up, get going and fly.” Let them be themselves.  

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