The Caribbean Sport Development Agency (CSDA) conference on Redefining Normal held at the Cascadia Hotel May 21-23, demonstrated the importance of bringing together local, regional and international researchers, practitioners and administrators to discuss the most effective approach physical education and sports can contribute to the social development of people of the Caribbean.
The nature of the conference themes concentrated on using physical education (PE) and sports to empower Caribbean youth in terms of their health, personal development and becoming leaders in their communities and the region at large.
The discussion from Andre Collins of CSDA, on the Delivery of Elementary Physical Education in Trinidad and Tobago highlighted the importance of having a clear vision and direction for PE if it is to be taken seriously by all stakeholders. A clear vision is rudimentary for the development of a proper framework for PE. This framework he suggested should be comprised of four important constituents: curriculum; teacher training; implementation and monitoring and evaluation. Although welcoming the decision by the Ministry of Education and the CXC to promote PE and sports in schools, he emphasised that they should not be driven solely by examinations. In other words, establishing an exam-less culture of physical activity and sports is more important.
According to Collin Higgs, effective collaboration between governments and civic society provides a strong foundation for practicing effective sports for development programmes. Therefore, the Ministry of Education can forge (if they do not do already) a working partnership with CSDA, UWI, UTT among others to ensure that its PE programme is properly devised, implemented and monitored and evaluated. It is important that there is no duplication of resources especially as its availability is one of the major logistical drawbacks of sports for development programmes locally, regionally and internationally especially in developing countries.
A collaborative effort can offer training of trainers (teachers) which is very critical to the effectiveness of PE especially at the primary school level where basic skills are developed. Therefore, such training should not only include the various physical activities that children should engage in but also incorporate other areas of human development such as social and communicative skills.
John Campbell’s discussion on Active After-School Programmes for the Caribbean, provided information on work currently being done by Caricom to promote children’s involvement in after school physical activity. The intention of the programme is commendable but based on the presentation one of its fundamental weaknesses is its failure to include the key participants (children) of the programme in the pre-pilot discussion. Knowledge in what children want to engage in and what are the reasons they may or may not engage in physical activity is very important to any successful programme.
Even in the delivery of sporting activities, the top-down decision making approach may not be effective. Researchers such as Allender, Cowburn and Foster (2006) have indicated that it is important to understand the meanings that children attach to physical activity and sports. Such an understanding will provide for proper formulation of programmes as well as allow for better training of teachers and coaches. This approach has the potential to increase the efficacy levels of the physical activity programmes. Participatory development and the importance of data informed programmes and policy cannot be overstated.
The use of physical activity and sports to teach about sexual health was brought out in the presentation by Linda Torege entitled How Do We Educate Youth About Sexual Health.
The essence of the presentation was to demonstrate how games and sports can teach children about understanding important life skills and their surroundings while at the same time having fun. The ongoing study by Sarah Zipp entitled Sport for Development with at-risk girls in St Lucia, raised questions as to how sport is viewed by at-risk girls and how has sports for development impacted on the girls lives. Some of the benefits identified have been of peer bonding and community connectedness. At the same time she indicated that some of the girls were faced with gender identity issues especially as it related to their body.
In T&T there has been discussions about using sports as a means of addressing at risk youth such as the Ryan Report 2013, Hoop of Life, and many anecdotal commentaries. However, there has not being any in-depth study or studies ascertaining how and to what extent sports and physical activity can assist in addressing some of the social issues confronting local and regional youth. One of the fundamental reasons that can account for the lack of studies may be the flawed evangelical view that sport is inherently good.
At the end of the conference, it was evident that effective sports for development programmes are directly dependent upon three “I’s”—Intent, Implementation and Impact. Additionally, all programmes require strong committed advocators and the availability of resources of which funding is most critical.