Should sport be made a compulsory public exam paper to be taken seriously?

School children

Malaysia harbours aspirations of winning medals on the international sporting platform, oftentimes forgetting the realities involving sports at the grassroots.

In schools, Physical Education classes are often sacrificed ahead of a public national examination. This is because schools are graded on the performance of their students. Despite the need to create a ‘wholesome’ student, both physically and mentally as described in the National Education Philosophy, sport seems to always take the backseat.

Olympian Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan offered an idea.

“If art and music are offered in the national public examinations, why can’t sport be included, too?” asked the iconic former sprinter turned doctor when met on Saturday.

“If you make sport a graded subject, it would then ensure that there will be equal attention to sport by the teachers, and students have the option of taking it as a subject, contributing to their overall marks.”

For the record, sports science – just like art and music – is offered as an elective SPM subject. However, the subject is not generally taught in most schools.

One’s participation in sport and other co-curricular activities is also considered in one’s application to institutions of higher learning – or for any form of grant or scholarship.

What Jegathesan is suggesting is to make sport a compulsory, serious, examination-rated subject that will ensure children pay attention, too. It should be treated just as important as the six compulsory SPM subjects – Bahasa Melayu, English, History, Mathematics, Science (for arts/literature stream students) and Islamic/Moral Studies.

In fact, sport has most, if not all, the values taught in Moral Education. Sport teaches one about fair play, love, respect, empathy, teamwork, determination, unity, and integrity, among many others.

Taking sport seriously would also mean ensuring teachers are fully equipped and trained to teach sport. This will aid in the process of encouraging students to lead active lifestyles and unearth talents.

It, however, remains unclear if the Education Ministry feels the need to further strengthen its approach to sport.

Adding another examination paper to the existing list would mean having to ensure there’s enough manpower, and that teachers are equipped to teach the subject. The ministry would first have to address the shortage of teachers in public schools, which has been a decades-long problem.

The ministry should also analyse what happened to its ‘1Student, 1Sport’ initiative. It should also study the findings of the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2022 that showed a rising prevalence of obesity, physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour, poor dietary choices, and excessive consumption of carbonated soft drinks and fast food among Malaysian adolescents aged 13 to 17.

The survey stated that four in five adolescents were physically inactive, with two in three adolescents leading predominantly sedentary lifestyles. It also revealed that four in five adolescents did not consume an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables.

As such, schools should encourage their students to be physically active and ensure that canteens served fruits and vegetables, instead of sweetened drinks, burgers, hot dogs, and other deep-fried, processed food.

The ministry, and more importantly parents, should also take note of the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that children and adolescents aged five to 17 should:

  • do at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week,
  • incorporate vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone, at least three days a week, and
  • limit the amount of time spent being sedentary, particularly the amount of recreational screen time.

All the talk about, and investment in, creating champions in the international arena will mean nothing if our children continue to adopt a sedentary lifestyle. They will later become parents and would certainly set a bad example for their future children or those around them.

An active nation would also see less burden being placed on the country’s healthcare system, while promising better productivity.

Our schools play an important role in shaping the next generation of leaders. Sport should be part of the academic calendar throughout the year, and not end right after the Sports Day ends.

Every child should be involved in physical activity.

It may take a generation or two to finally realise the importance of sport in our daily lives, but it has to start somewhere and it’s best to get the ball rolling today.

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