A chance email to the IPLA from two separate individuals in Nepal (Raju and Indunil) led to an opportunity to visit and share ‘physical literacy’ with another country. Skype conversations and emails allowed me to link my latest trip to work with the Indian Heritage Schools with a short diversion to Nepal. Initial impressions were that Nepal is a very similar environment to India and these were confirmed over the next few days. Vibrant and chaotic towns and cities merge into rural areas where life is simple and agricultural. Indunil was working with the Army’s talented athletes and has created a regime of training for excellence which he wants to share with others. He is also keen to work with children in schools to instil a love of physical activity so that they can be enthused to value and be active for life. Raju, who I spent most of my time with, is a Christian Pastor who works with various communities to try to improve their lives. He believes in the importance of regular physical activity and a healthy diet for all and is keen to find ways by which both adults and children can be better provided for in relation to a physical and food education. A five hour car journey over rutted single lane roads where you are playing ‘chicken’ with every 30 ton truck that you try to overtake or that tries to overtake you, around bends or straights, made for a nerve racking journey. This was followed by a one hour tuck-tuck ride up a valley track, through rivers and villages to our first school.
Set in a beautiful location, the school has three basic classrooms and a small area of land on which the children can play. There is no formal physical education and the teachers have very limited training and no physical education experience. There is a book in which there are a few pages that show gymnastics (examples of balances), some pictures of basic exercises and some information about diet and healthy living. The teachers did not provide any time for actual physical activity as their main focus was academic learning for the tests (sounds familiar!). My initial thoughts were how would it be possible to help children develop their physical literacy within the school environment and local community? I then thought that this was the challenge IPLA were looking for. There are many schools in the world which have very limited facilities and equipment with teachers who have little or no experience of teaching physical education. There are very few formal activities within the local area and families spend the majority of their time making a living or surviving within the challenging rural environment. The challenge that could be put out to the world is how could we improve the life opportunities of the children at these schools based on their facilities, equipment and teachers experience? From a physical and food literacy point of view, what could be done to support the school so that the children received an active physical education and support for food literacy? For a minimal cost, how could the school utilise the facilities in the school grounds and local community to provide physical activities? What simple equipment would need to be supplied to enable a variety of activities to be provided? What support material would the teachers need and how could these be best provided so that they could access and use them easily?
From the first school we then set off uphill, in 35 degrees of heat, on a challenging two hour climb up a precarious path that had been recently modified due to rock fall. This path wove in between the dwellings, crops and animals until we could see the school perched on the top of a hill.
The children were waiting for us but when we arrived but they were quite shy as they had seen very few ‘white people’! A discussion with the three teachers revealed that their situation was very similar to the school in the valley, with very basic facilities, no equipment except books and teachers with very limited training. The space they had was even smaller with one small flat area which dropped steeply away into the valley and then the school with the mountain above and below and a steep drop into the valley on the other side. No formal activities were taught and children played some simple games in their free time. One young child who had climbed onto a tree over the steep drop into the valley seemed quite confident in her ability to climb. An attempt to get the children to show how they played Kabadi revealed some knowledge of the activity but little enthusiasm from the girls. Observing a child doing a cartwheel I managed to persuade two boys to cartwheel around the grounds to indicate the possibility of gymnastics as an activity that could be taught. As we left the school the children came charging down the hill at great speed, demonstrating the agility of mountain goats, and the teachers followed with equal confidence but at a more sedate speed. The children were confident in climbing trees travelling through steep and rocky environments and playing local games.
My challenge to you is, given the environment these schools are based in:
- How could the school utilise the facilities in the school grounds and local community to provide physical activities?
- What simple equipment would need to be supplied to enable a variety of activities to be provided?
- What support material would the teachers need and how could these be best provided so that they could access and use them easily?