For as long as I can remember there has been this idea that the only way to get yourself out of poverty or the only way to make something of yourself in this world, is through education.
However, the best-run and the best-performing schools in our communities also were the ones that excelled in both forms of extra-curricular activities – sport and choral music. The teachers back then recognised that a ‘healthy mind in a healthy body’ was the way to go and they put as much emphasis on these extra-mural activities as they did on the academic side of things. They viewed extra-curricular activities as not an impediment towards academic excellence. To the contrary – they viewed them as not only complimentary but very crucial in the advancement of the academic programme.
Young people who have so much energy do need a healthy outlet for their pent-up energy. What better way to do this than to play sport or take part in other extra-curricular activities like choral music and debates? This was the approach as well when I started teaching in the early 90s and it continued until the start of the second decade of the 21st century when things gradually took a turn for the worse. South Africa has more than 25 000 schools catering for more than 12 million pupils and of the 25 000 schools 3 500 are independent while another few thousand are former Model C schools.
The vast majority of the schools are what we call ‘black’ schools in townships, farms and rural areas. There is a huge disparity when it comes to sport and sport participation between these schools and independent and former Model C schools. Sport is taken very seriously and is even compulsory for all the able-bodied pupils while in the black schools, of late, it is not only seen as a nuisance but a hindrance to academic performance. How else do you explain the almost non-existent sport in these schools compared with about 15 to 20 years ago? Grade 12 pupils spend almost all their time being taught or studying, leaving them with little or no time to take part, in any meaningful way, in sport.
Many of these schools have basically abandoned any sporting activities to the detriment of the millions of pupils in their care. It is now all about matric results and nothing else. I find this not only misguided but very detrimental to those pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. These schools seem to have a very weird idea that only through academics alone can the pupils create a career in life. Sport, with many of its tributaries, can be a very viable career alternative, much like others. Not everyone will be a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer, in fact not everyone wants to be any of these.
In grade 12 most pupils are 18 and at the peak of youthful prowess and can make a big step up to the professional arena or be snapped up by high performance centres or universities where they can study free, while pursuing their sporting careers. By practically keeping them as prisoners in schools, studying, we are taking away their opportunity to make something of themselves. Unfortunately, the victims are the poor and black learners in township and rural schools.
Is it a coincidence that many communities today are blighted by drug abuse, gangsterism and crime? How much have the schools contributed to this? Surely this cannot be allowed to continue. I have always wondered, if playing sport hinders your academics, how come the best sporting schools are also the best academically-performing schools? This has to change as we are sentencing more than 80% of the youth to very limited career prospects and general wellbeing.