The parents of children at India School, Kabul, where I was the Principal, used to grumble about my policy of organising various activities like debates, declamation contests, quiz competitions, mock parliament, model U.N. sessions, cycling expeditions, drama, cultural and sports events, art, craft and science exhibition. A number of them felt that it was a waste of time which could be utilized for higher academic achievements. Their children passed out, are holding high, responsible positions and are flourishing in life.
Later in India we the ‘Kabulites’ have been meeting once in a while where the same parents have been thanking me profusely for giving their children a sound education. To me education implies exciting exploration of the human potential: it is a life-altering force. Education should not mean only high percentages. It should involve activities that are intended to stimulate thinking, develop right attitudes like empathy, sportsmanship and foster learning, be it of any kind. By asking children to participate in the above mentioned activities I was wanting to enhance, inter-alia, their level of self-confidence, self-reliance, sense of achievement, removal of stage fright etc. In the process they not only learnt to work as a team but also became fearless and developed a tremendous amount of courage to defend themselves ably later in life. When we all work together with a plan, we prepare, rehearse, debate, remove differences of opinion, get focused and succeed. As we are doing this we pick up qualities of leadership. I was only acting as a catalyst to enable them to develop all their faculties, to bring their mind, body and spirit together. I have followed the same practice in the schools I have had the privilege of heading.
By getting our children involved in co-curricular activities as mentioned above, we enable them to acquire vital life skills so that they become effective and productive global citizens. We adults must realize that excursions, field trips, creative pursuits, discussions make the warp and weft of a sound, all round education. The important skills of negotiation, socialization, when to reef in our sails or when to assert are learnt through minor fist-fights and arguments away from classes and often behind a teacher’s desk.
The normal course of studies does not stretch the minds of children fully. Therefore, provision must be made in the curriculum for activities which children will enjoy and yet learn in the process. The basic thrusts of the academic content will also get strengthened if these activities can be looked upon as part of the learning process. Hence, any worthwhile educational system must structure in itself a planned enrichment programme beyond the text books.
If we were to base our educational system only on high academic achievement then the names of formidable people like Albert Einstein (who passed only in his second attempt at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Charles Dickens (a High school dropout), Walt Disney (he received his High school Diploma at the age of 59) and many more would have been on the reject register which in itself would have been chewed up by silver fish!
It is a truism that a healthy mind can reside only in a healthy body.
Unfortunately a remote-controlled style of living has reduced physical effort. This has led to a sedentary life for all age groups. In all major towns of the country, increasingly we find the children are getting flabby, almost obese and hence falling prey to all kinds of diseases. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that children of all ages be sensitized to the need for physical fitness. It is my belief that those, irrespective of age, who cannot find time to take some kind of exercise will have to find time to visit the doctor not once but many times. It is well known that prevention is better than cure and, therefore, everybody must make an effort to keep himself physically fit.
Increasing modernization has led to pollution of water, air, food etc. Different kinds of viruses have sprung up: health hazards have multiplied. Hence there is greater need for strengthening our immunity which can be achieved through exercise and keeping ourselves physically fit.
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, once said that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playfields of Eton”. Eton is a famous public school in England. All of us know that there is nothing special about the soil or the grass of that playground. What Wellesley meant was that the character traits developed by students while playing there helped them towards that victory. Therefore, let us urge our children to play and build up, among other qualities, an indomitable spirit.
Physical activities, be it games, sports, yoga, hiking, trekking, swimming, cycling, skipping or the gym, will enable us to maintain good health. In addition to keeping us fit sports imbue us with stamina, endurance, fearlessness, power of concentration and the ability to take quick decisions. They also teach us self-control and bring in desirable changes in our behaviour: emotions and excess energy get channelised. It is a well known fact that as we engage ourselves in games we are relieved of worries and tensions.
They also build up a good, pliable physique which becomes an asset rather than a liability. Swami Vivekananda exhorted the youth, “Be strong, my young friends… you will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita… you will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little of strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman when your body stands firm on your feet…”.
Sickly people remain much worried about their health problems and cannot engage themselves in hard work and hence are not able to achieve much in life. As commonly (mis)understood, education is taken as enhancement of knowledge through books. Academic pursuits are glorified in our society. We forget that man is naturally inclined towards physical activity and one can learn a lot through games and sports. They contribute a lot in shaping our interests, attitudes, social and moral behaviour. Through team games children can imbibe leadership qualities and the spirit of co-operation. But the inculcation of sportsmanship is the greatest advantage of organized sports.
One learns to play the game of life strictly according to the whistle and not crib over verdicts, however unpalatable.
The principle of survival of the fittest is well known to us all. Competitiveness arises out of this principle and hence is difficult to eradicate. Sports provide a healthy forum to satisfy that urge. They imbue the participant with inflexible will, courage and determination. One may lose a match but games do teach us not to be losers in life, for one can always try again.
Exercise also boosts our energy: a few minutes of stretching or a brisk walk perks us up. It helps us not only to fall asleep faster but also to enjoy sound sleep: our bones become denser with physical training. Therefore, if we wish to lead a life free of disease and tension, whatever our age, we must avoid becoming ‘couch potatoes’ and make all possible efforts to keep ourselves physically fit.
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