Let’s get physical!

2011-11-11 13:21

The dustbin at the far end of the playground at Diodi Primary in Mapetla, Soweto, overflows with rubbish.

The playground itself is a bald patch of sand with stray clumps of uncut grass.

There is a soccer field with rusty goal posts and no nets. Beneath one of the few trees stands a group of young men and women in red T-shirts having a team talk.

Scattered around them are sports bags, hula hoops, balls of all sizes and cricket wickets.

The stillness is shattered at noon when a bell rings and dozens of learners spill out of their classrooms, jostling and chatting.

One group of 11- and 12-years-olds moves towards the netball court and starts to organise themselves into single files.

Another heads over to where the cricket wickets are being set up by one of the guys in red T-shirts.

The rest march over to the soccer field to play a game called “fetch and carry”, which tests their running and balancing skills.

A few minutes later, the air is filled with the sounds of “Shoot! Step back, arms up and throw! Kick!” from the coaches.

There are shrieks, dances and hugs when a team member scores, lands a triple-jump or smacks down a wicket. “Order guys, order!” bellows a Grade 5 teacher.

Only once a week for an hour do the playgrounds at Diodi come alive like this – thanks to the red-shirted men and women called Young Heroes, who have come to help get learners up and running at this school.

Says Arthur Molemohi, a head of department at Diodi who is passionately “into sports”, the teachers here have struggled to implement Life Orientation sports (LO4) as described by the curriculum, because not all of them have the skills.

“This is why the Young Heroes have been so helpful,” he says.

The Young Heroes are unemployed teenagers from the area who themselves joined Soweto sports and recreation clubs as a way to keep themselves busy while looking for jobs.

“When you grow up and see time passing, you achieve nothing when you just sit at home, which is why I applied to be a Young Hero and why I really love what I do,” says volunteer coach Dimakatso Makhetha.

“We show the teachers how to improve the children’s locomotive skills. Kids are all different and don’t develop in the same way – some need more practice than others.”

The Young Heroes were recruited as volunteers by the My Township School project, now active in 10 Soweto primary schools and involving more than 4 000 children in regular physical activities.

The problem at underfunded schools is twofold: many lack their own sports fields and equipment – for instance, Diodi primary uses the facilities at the nearby Moloi Stadium.

In addition, complicated curriculum changes from OBE (Outcomes Based Education) to the Revised National Curriculum six years ago, have caused confusion among educators about the status and scope of physical games at school.

“What was formerly known as PE (Physical Education) in schools is now located in the learning area called LO (Life Orientation) and the name has changed to Human Movement,” says Johannesburg’s Central District Sports Coordinator, Kavi Naidoo.

Little wonder teachers are bewildered about what they’re expected to do to keep learners physically active.

This is where the My Township School project and its Young Heroes come in.

“We brought in the Young Heroes because they have been trained in sports and the teachers needed help,” says Molemohi, who coordinates the school’s sports.

Molemohi adds proudly that Diodi is also rated number one in the district’s primary school sports, despite having to do their training elsewhere.

My Township School was created from private/government partnerships to address what My Township School founder and coach Siphiew Sibeko calls “the disparities between township and former Model C schools as well as the severe lack of physical activity”.

The Young Heroes programme runs for two years – in Diodi’s case from March 2010 to March 2012 – after which the schools’ newly trained teachers will take over.

The benefits of structured physical activity are huge, says teacher Molemohi.

Not only does it give staff a chance to observe their pupils’ behaviour outside the classroom, but it also “brings a vibe to the kids, you know, and they really enjoy themselves. It helps them feel part and parcel of something.”

The bell rings again and the learners, by now covered in sweat and dust, move back towards their classrooms.

One of the boys grabs another by his shoulder and says: “Next week I’m going to beat all you again at running and my team will be number one at fetch and carry, nizobona you’ll see.”

Learners at Diodi Primary school in Mapetla, Soweto, take part in a “shooting at goal game” as part of their physical activity classes with coaches from the Young Heroes programme.

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