19 Nov 2012

Sports and Education: Ways to make it work

 As a child I loved sports, I loved to watch athletes sprint, and jump, and dart across the court playing tennis, wrestle, box etc. I loved a lot of sporting activities. I loved it so much I was a member of my school's athletic team both in primary school and secondary school. In fact, I was always ecstatic whenever it was time for P.H.E (physical health education), and we had to do the "practical" aspect. I loved giving my mates "gap(s)" as we sprinted down the 100m stretch on our school field. Even now, my best moments in school that I recall were the times I spent taking part in sports. My love for sports lives though, but my participation in sports came to an end when I gained admission into the tertiary institution.

It might sound boring reading my tales of how much I must have enjoyed sports in school, but I'd like you to understand the message I want to pass across. Like every other child when I was a kid, sports excited me. It gave me a sense of belonging, and boosted my self confidence. It sharpened my "talents" and made me mentally alert even at a very young age. Sports played a strong part in molding me into what I am now, and I am certain some people would agree with me on this.

However, it is sad that these days sports has been shifted to the proverbial "back burner" in our country. Most of the schools that still organize "Inter-house sports" competitions only do so because it is meant to be a part of the school curriculum. Many have lost sight on the importance of sports in the education of children. For example, where I am currently serving, the portion of the school that once held the Football pitch has been overtaken by grass. The volleyball court has no net, and the students have little or no interest in sports, save the JS 1 students who still believe they are kids and have yet to catch the bug of "seniority". It is important to note that sports is really important to not only our system of education, but in building the prestige of our nation.

Sports can be used as a way to aid children who can not afford to pay tuition in school to actually afford education. Indeed, many of us Nigerian youths are blessed to have been born into rather "able" homes that have been able to cater for our needs and provide us with sound education. This thus somewhat shields us from the fact that there are indeed other children, whom we might not even be better than intellectually, who can't afford to go to school. In Nigeria today, scholarship schemes are even still exploited by those who seemingly have the upper hand, and as such, most times, the poor and needy who ought to benefit from such scholarships don't have access to them.

In my opinion, sports could be used as a tool to boost the level of interest youths have in education. This would go a long way in even saving the declining sports industry in Nigeria. I have always believed in "catching them young". It is no secret that children take a keen interest in anything that allows them spend their energy, running around, tossing and kicking balls, and a host of other things. You can hardly walk by a street in Lagos or wherever you stay on a weekend and not see kids playing "street football". Most of these kids hawk goods for their parents all through the week, and yet, the proceeds of their hawking might not even be enough to afford them the luxury of going to school. In order to save the Nigerian child, youth, and the Nigerian sports industry, I believe something should be done to look into fusing sports with education. I mean something stronger than what is being doing vis-a-vis the regular school curriculum.

Firstly, as I said earlier, sports can be used to give children a chance to have an education. The kids we see on the streets chasing vehicles, trying to sell "gala" and "lacasera" and other things could be put in some sort of "centre" where they could put their rather "street" mathematical and cognitive reasoning, as well as sporting abilities to proper use. I am aware that we have various sports academies in Nigeria already, but how well do these serve those who are really in need of them? Things like this should be properly looked into.

Secondly, fusing sports with education would help to develop future leaders, who would not only be sports men and women, but who would have education that would afford them with opportunity to work in other capacities. In the developed world, there are athletic scholarships, which over the years have made the dreams of young people seeking to have a good education become a reality. Indeed, some foreign countries have "snatched" some of our greatest minds and talents using this medium. So I ask, why can't there be an avenue where a student who can make good grades and still participate in sports could be valued and encouraged in Nigeria? Most times the Nigerian tabloids and newspapers are always quick to "claim" a "Nigerian" who has made achievements in sports or education in another country; do they take pains to remember that their "home" country did nothing to hone their talents? Why are we quick to take glory where we did nothing?

The 2012 Olympics sure did leave a bitter taste in my mouth. A good number of the athletes that competed on the aegis of most of the european countries had Nigerian backgrounds. Most of them even took home medals for their adopted countries. If the Nigerian educational system valued sports and entrenched it in the system the way it is done elsewhere, we won't have had such a dismal outing at the Olympics. The same can be said in the aspect of Football in Nigeria. Whenever it is time for any continental or international competition, we begin to look high and low for footballers who have taken their trade elsewhere and who have worked hard without even a dime contributed to their success by the Nigerian government. It is important that we learn how to catch our children young, train them not only intellectually, but also discover their talents and enhance them. This would go a long way in saving both our system of education and our sports industry.

I would want to laud the efforts of MTN in creating football scholarships for able bodied Nigerian youths, providing them with the opportunity to not only play, but also get a good education. However, I do not think the answer lies in providing scholarships to foreign universities. I would stress again that the Nigerian government, at the federal and state level should do more to improve the standard of education in the country. These sports scholarships should be entrenched in the Nigerian system of education, and not elsewhere. There should be proper training of Nigerians, send them out on "courses" if you must, and then bring them back to impart their knowledge on those at home. I believe if this is done, it would not only increase the chances of the "less privileged" of getting an education, it would also slowly and steadily revive both the education and sports sector in Nigeria, thus ultimately leading to national growth and development. 

by Opeyemi
2012 9JEducation.org work-study

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