A 30-minute car ride, westward of the busy Bhubaneswar airport leads to the Dumduma slum area, which houses hundreds of families. One of its residents is Khadija Moin, a 9th-grade student of the Vivekananda Shiksha Kendra School. She has two sisters, her father the sole earner in the family runs a shop that sells mobile accessories while her mother is a homemaker.

Despite the financial constraints and the difficulty in procuring resources, Khadija developed a keen interest in books and music. But it was sport, especially team games such as cricket, basketball, and football, that the teenager was truly passionate about. Unfortunately, neither did she have the opportunity to participate in organized sport earlier, nor did she have the confidence to play informally with her peers because of the body-shaming she experienced as a child and her fear of playing with boys. With no access to equipment or formal coaching and low self-esteem, Khadija would try to watch sports videos using her father’s mobile phone to learn the basics. When her school introduced a community-level sports program on-campus, a distant dream of participating turned into a reality for Khadija.

Sporting Skills On and Off the Field

Back in 2016, Vivekananda Shiksha Kendra School decided to work with experts in the social development sector. Suheil Tandon, the founder of Pro Sport Development (PSD), was one of the people who joined their effort. A post-graduate in Sport Management from Loughborough University (UK), Suheil had founded PSD in 2013 with the intention of nurturing young sporting talent, especially amongst marginalized sections of society.  However, the organization soon decided to harness sport as a tool for the holistic development of children. 

“Well-designed sport for development programmes have the power to break down inequalities and promote social inclusion among young people by providing access to sport and physical activity within safe spaces. This allows participants to interact with peers to improve personal and social skills, overcome existing gender barriers, and improve health and well-being. Khadija’s story sheds light on the ability of a well-designed programme that promotes inclusion and builds crucial skills relevant to the future of young human beings.” – Suheil Tandon

When Khadija joined PSD’s programmes, she was hesitant about playing with boys, and was convinced that her performance on the sports field would be inadequate. However, her participation in PSD’s Community Sports Programme (CSP) and Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) programme, which are interventions designed specifically to be utilized by the school, helped Khadija overcome her low self-esteem.

Players in action at the Mixed-Gender Football Tournament organised by PSD.

The CSP utilizes a structured and goal-oriented multi-sport and multi-activity curriculum, specially designed for children between Grades 1 to 9. The goal is to develop fundamental movement skills, sharpen soft skills, and imbibe sporting values.

The Kadam Badhate Chalo — which literally means to  ‘keep moving forward’ — programme was jointly conceptualized with the Martha Farrell Foundation. It aims to utilise adapted sports-based activities with children between the ages of 13-18 years to address gender discrimination on the field and in the community at large. 

KBC participants playing a game of Bulldog to learn about leadership & teamwork.

Both the CSP and KBC programmes focus on the combined participation of girls and boys in all activities. The sporting events are organized in schools and community spaces, intended to serve as a platform for endorsing equal partnership among boys and girls, in a bid to break normative gender barriers and achieve socio-emotional learning outcomes such as leadership, teamwork, and confidence.

Giving Sports its Due Recognition: The NEP 2020

The global term Sport for development (S4D) refers to the “use of sport, or any form of physical activity, to provide both children and adults with the opportunity to achieve their full potential through initiatives that promote personal and social development”. Backed by in-depth research and evidence, the UN has long advocated the role of sport in improving overall health, socio-emotional learning, and self-esteem. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize the role of sports in achieving SDG 4, which is Quality Education.

Section 4.8 of the NEP | Source

The latest National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has made significant strides to integrate sport into the educational curriculum. It explicitly mentions that sport needs to be treated as an integral part of the curriculum. The 2020 NEP also discourages the view that sport is an extracurricular activity that needs to be given less attention than mainstream subjects like English and Mathematics. 

The learnings from sport have been well-established universally, but there are still gaps in implementation in India. According to the MHRD report (2015-16) published by the Government of India, there were about 15 million schools in the country. To ‘implement’ sports education, the absolute basic requirements are a playground, coaches, and a comprehensive and complementary teaching-learning methodology. But, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018,  found that only 6% of schools in the 596 rural districts have a dedicated physical education teacher. 

“Early into our work at PSD, we realized that having an evidence-based pedagogy for utilizing sports within education for the socio-emotional development of children would be crucial for the characteristics of sport to serve as an enabler for development. Not only did we develop well-researched S4D curricula for various programmes, but we also tested these in the field and ensured that they were contextually relevant and impactful. With the National Education Policy 2020 being launched, we are glad that the work we have been doing for the past many years has been recognized by policymakers and we hope many more schools take up such crucial programmes.” – Suheil Tandon

Students participating in the KBC ice-breaker game, ‘Sab ke Saath’ 

Khadija’s school, Vivekananda Shiksha Kendra School, intends to follow the guidelines laid out in  the National Education Policy. The school unconventionally partnered with PSD to ensure that the sports education curriculum is executed in a manner that children are equipped with soft skills that can also be used off the field.  PSD has reached a total of 2,144 children (43% girls) across 22 community-based schools through the CSP across Bhubaneswar alone.

The transformational power of sport

The principal of Vivekananda Shiksha Kendra School, Prakash Chandra Swami, says 

“I have seen Khadija develop herself from a shy girl to a confident and smart individual through hard-work in studies and regular engagement in sports. The unique mixed-gender sports sessions helped bring out the best output from several students studying at our school, including Khadija.”

Khadija is busy preparing for her Class X board exams next year. She wants to become a doctor and serve the people in her community. For her parents and community of Dumduma slum, this transformation certainly seems like a generational leap forward and showcases the power of harnessing sports for development, education, and empowerment in India.

Featured image of CSP participants celebrating a goal in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, courtesy of Pro Sport Development | Views expressed are personal. 


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