Focus on Northern Cape Department of Education
19th March 2017
Call a spade a spade
20th March 2017

Living active lives

Physical education helps learners improve their concentration and self-esteem
Mosibodi Whitehead
The removal of physical education (PE) from the school curriculum in 1999 will go down as one of the most significant policy blunders made in post-apartheid South Africa. According to the department of basic education (DoBE): “This change to the curriculum has resulted in PE being removed as a stand-alone subject and incorporated into the Life Orientation (LO) curriculum, of which only up to 50% can be dedicated to PE. This has led to a drop in PE participation at schools due to lack of trained practitioners and content understanding of PE.”
Adoption of charter
Research is clear that children require regular physical activity, which helps with concentration and building positive self-esteem. So undeniable is the evidence that Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) at its general conference in 2015 adopted the International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport. The main goal was to establish access to sport as a fundamental human right.
The adoption of the charter is based, in the main, on the work of Hallal et al who, in their 2012 paper Global Physical Activity Levels: Surveillance Progress, Pitfalls, and Prospects, describe how reduced global physical activity increases the burden of non-communicable diseases, which could soar to pandemic proportions in future. And if one considers that in South Africa, as recently as 2014, a study found that at least half of South African children were not active enough and were doing less than an hour of physical activity each day, the picture is bleak.
All is not lost
But all is not lost, because after it realised its folly, DoBE now recommends that children get at least 90 minutes of physical activity per week. Private schools and former Model C schools are generally able to achieve this, but in thousands of under-resourced schools in South Africa’s townships and rural areas it is a challenge. This has created an opportunity for the DoBE to partner with nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to reinstate PE in schools around the country. One such NGO is Achieve It, which runs a programme called Move-It, Moving it Matters™. It has partnered with the department at over 120 schools in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, with plans to expand to other provinces.
Live active lives
The programme is designed to grow and develop age-appropriate motor skills for learners, specifically focusing on balance, locomotion and manipulation.  Dr Claire Nicholson, founder of the programme, said: “The programme is a quality physical education intervention that commences in grade four and progresses to grade six. The intention is to deliver children at the end of primary school as being competent in their physicality, so that they can get on with their lives and live active lives for life.”
At a cost of R8 per day per child, hundreds of thousands of South African schoolchildren in historically underperforming schools have been equipped with bags (blue for grade four, red for grade five and yellow for grade six) filled with exercise equipment. This was made possible through corporate donations from the likes of Total South Africa, Life Healthcare, Coca-Cola and Massmart. During the LO periods teachers, trained by the programme’s sports co-ordinators, administer the programme. The results have been remarkable.
Academic improvement
Many girls who started the programme in grade four were overweight (using the Body Mass Index measure). But by the time they reached grade six, after being involved with the programme for over two years, there were far fewer underweight and overweight children, with most falling within the normal range.
The learners showed an improvement in their academic performance as well. The percentage of learners who do their homework rose from less than 10% in grade four to 40% in grade six. Martha Mente, principal at Yeoville Community School, said: “This programme helps our pupils in many educational areas. Their overall academic development has improved and we are also able to identify children who require more attention in terms of physical and skills development.”
Improved relations
Ultimately the success of this programme has been built on the enthusiasm of the teachers who have bought into its philosophy. It is the LO teachers who are responsible for the data collection and marking the grade-specific workbooks allocated to each child. These are then presented as a portfolio of physical literacy evidence at the end of each year.
Mente’s colleague Jabu Mgquba said he has improved relationship with his learners in the classroom by interacting with them outside the classroom. “You know they [learners] get so tired of seeing us in class engaging theoretically. It also engages us as teachers on a different level. Now we get an opportunity where we can even expose those who are not participating in class to showcase their talents outside of academics,” said Mgquba.
Talented learners identified through the programme are being elevated to coaching programmes within federations such as the South African Football Association and Tennis South Africa. Others are absorbed into mainstream coaching with a view to creating a pipeline of talent from primary school learner to elite athlete.

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