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Integrating opportunities for experiential learning and youth leadership into sports-based activities can contribute to attaining SDG targets

Despite tall claims of achieving various targets in literacy, universal primary education and provision of quality education, Pakistan is facing serious challenges to ensure that all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, attend, retain and learn in a school-friendly environment. An estimated 22.8 million children between 5 and 16 are still out of school due to various reasons.

During my personal experience of service in the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), I observed that despite improvement in enrollment and retention of children in schools the progress is slow and education is not a joyful experience, particularly for young kids, who lack the opportunity to regularly participate in organized and supervised structured sports in a safe environment.

After Covid-19, education and sports were most affected. Schools were closed, thus impacting 91 percent of students around the world.

Sports activities which were already too few in our educational institutions also remained suspended. According to a UN report, approximately 1.6 billion students are out of school which has resulted in increased crimes, drastic economic downfall and disease outbreaks, leading to unexpected challenges, particularly in South Asia.

After a long struggle and various experiments to upgrade the national curriculum in line with global standards and to meet various national objectives, the PTI government came up with the Single National Curriculum (SNC) for achieving high-quality education and holistic development of children.

Among the key considerations of SNC is alignment with goals and targets of SDG 4 and focus on life skills-based and inclusive education.

Numerous national workshops were held. Stakeholders from federating units, public and private sectors, religious schools and different education systems in the country were brought under one umbrella by the Ministry of Planning Development & Special Initiatives. But you hardly find involvement of any sports education specialist in the consultative process of developing the SNC.

Despite ignoring the importance of sports and physical education at national level it has been observed that sports is a cost-effective tool for promoting peace and development objectives. The UN considers it an important enabler of development. Despite Covid-19 challenges, the combination of sports and education is necessary.

Besides the UN, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat have high stakes in using sports for attaining SDGs. Integrating opportunities for experiential learning and youth leadership into sports-based activities can contribute to attaining SDG target 4.4 and 4.7 which focus on wider personal, skill and knowledge development. SDG target 4.5 highlights the need to address long-lasting inequalities in access to physical education and school-based sports.

While physical and sports education has become compulsory in 97 percent of countries (UNESCO 2013 a, b) and has significant weightage in the assessment and ratings of schools worldwide, sports are still considered a waste of time and effort by most parents and policymakers in our country.

All Sports for Development experts believe that sports improve learning outcomes by fostering academic performance, leadership abilities and enhancing concentration and focus among students who in the absence of sports opportunities may get involved in use of drugs to take refuge from academic and social pressures.

Sports impart life skills that can help youngsters when they join our workforce. It motivates young people to attend school, make friends and get hooked on education.

The 6th International Conference of Ministers & Senior Officials Responsible for Physical Education & Sports was held in Kazan, Russia, in July 2017.

Over one hundred experts and practitioners from various governments, the UN, Sports Organizations, NGOs and academia formulated the Kazan Action Plan (KAP). This plan offers guidelines to policymakers and sports education practitioners in using sports to achieve 36 targets of 17 SDGs, including quality education for all.

Another important resource in this regard is the European Physical Education Association (EUPEA) declaration of Madrid that highlights the values associated with participation in sports and physical education, promoting fair play, tolerance, discipline and teamwork.

The myth of large spaces to organize sports must be busted because a number of small sports can be organized in limited spaces to achieve life skill objectives along with laying correct foundations for young athletes who may later consider taking sports at an elite level or utilize these skills in their professional lives.

It must be remembered that quality education is the key to escaping poverty and enabling upward socioeconomic mobility. It reduces inequalities and promotes tolerance. In order to achieve MDG 4, sports should not be left out of sight. The government should consider establishing a “Sports for Development Secretariat” under the Ministry of Planning Development & Special Initiatives, comprising subject specialists to give policy inputs for education institutions and develop synergy among the provinces.


Aamir Bilal is an eminent sports analyst with expertise in sports management and sports for development