Talk-ED: Going for gold in teaching and learning

Stuart Middleton
EDTalkNZ
30 July 2012

Let the games begin!

The Olympics have started again with an opening ceremony awash with the usual clichés about how taking part is more important than winning. If this was on a billboard then just to one side would be an emphatic “Yeah, right!”

Sport has a very close relationship with education and plays a big part in schools. I personally do not think that enough emphasis is placed on the role of sport in education.

We all know that playing sport is a very good way for young people to grow in a healthy way and to learn elements of team work, reliability, personal responsibility and the like. It is also an important part of developing pride in a school.

It is my view that top secondary school sport should be organised on a national basis, played in conferences, televised and lead to national results. Not all sport of course. That is not the real world. While Tiger and Adam battle it out on some prestigious golf course, countless millions of plodders chase the elusive little white ball around courses all over the world. No, I am talking about elite sport. There would continue quite a lot of sport at lower levels just as there is now.

Sport New Zealand might be much better off and have a greater impact and enjoy increased support by investing most of its money in promoting elite sport in secondary schools – athletics, swimming, rugby, football (both men and women), cycling, hockey, rowing and basketball would be a good place to start.

Then after the secondary school level national sports competitions were in place, attention could shift to developing a national “college sports” programme based on the eight universities and the six largest polytechnics. This would be a winner just as it is in the US. Quality sport played in conferences then culminating in the playoffs would be a much better bet than unseen school sport and struggling provincial efforts to attract interest.

Above these levels the national elite ranks would emerge and the top players would proceed into the increasingly franchised scene that is top sport.

The point about college sport was driven home to me one cold night at UC Berkeley. It was half-time in a football game and a parade of the universities top sports teams was taking place. The commentator assured the audience of 80,000 that “no sports person is parading tonight who hasn’t maintained an 8.5 grade point average.” There is a connection between quality in sports and quality in the classroom. There is a connection between pride in the sports and pride in the school. 

Teachers carry a cruel burden of having not only to maintain excellence in terms of teaching programmes but also are expected to maintain the sports programme. Both matter but little investment goes into the sports programme compared with the teaching programme.

If resources for sports were deployed much more evenly across our schools, performance would also be much more even. It is not only the quality of the sports people that allows some schools to reach and maintain elite performance but also the size of the resource that is invested in those schools. A fair share of sports resources for all schools would see that sports talent and performance does not respect decile levels!

This would provide a lift for the entire school system as pride in school increased, as talent in sports crossed over to performance in the classroom.

Because , like the Olympic Games, when it comes to education it is not the taking part that matters as much as the winning. High performance in learning is also a matter of training, good preparation, sound coaching and putting together on the day as they say.

Making sports work for education can only benefit everyone. And getting serious about sports in schools and “colleges” (universities and large polytechnics) would add value to our system of institutionalised education which too often, like our sports, disappoints when it comes to results.

 

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