@scribblingalHow did South Africa get here? Its children are the third most obese in the world. And, just as staggering, – only 10% of the country’s schools offer sport. That was the figure given to Parliament by Dr Willie Basson, secretary of the Eminent Persons Group that monitors transformation in sport, this week. This means that children going to 22 500 of the 25 000 primary and secondary schools in the country do not have access to sport. According to a study published in the South African Journal of Science in 2002, one of the two overriding causes of the increased prevalence of overweight and obesity in developing countries is a decline in physical activity. The other is, of course, diet. According to Professor Hans de Ridder of North West University’s school of biokinetics, recreation and sports science, “children who walk less than ten thousand paces per day run the risk of being diagnosed with chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol or type 2 diabetes”. It was therefore crucially important that children be active from a young age. “They must play, do physical education at school, take part in sport and follow an active lifestyle,” the professor said. “The role our schools and especially the parents play in this regard is also extremely important to ensure that our South African children maintain an active and healthy lifestyle.” Easier said than done, evidently, says the alarming sport-in-schools statistic. First, what happened to the obligatory twice-a-week physical education classes? These used to be forced upon pupils, in school time. No bunking or shirking was allowed. It even went on your report card. Teachers were paid to tire out pupils. Some of them were rather sadistic. This was where we learnt how to do push-ups, jumping jacks and tummy crunches. Running, jumping and kicking were all mandatory, even for the less coordinated students. The biggest problem, seems to be that teachers, who were the driving force behind school sport, aren’t interested in taking on extra work. “[Teachers] say they are not paid for coaching sport, and all the changes in the syllabus have increased their workload. The departments of sport and of basic education will have to do something,” said Basson. So how does it work at the 10% of schools that still offer sport? According to a teacher at a government high school, every teacher at the school has to do some kind of extramural activity, be it cultural or sport. “We do get paid a very small amount, but I know that we are one in a million. Most other schools don’t get paid ... this is the first time I am.” A teacher at one of Johannesburg’s private schools said that all its teachers were encouraged to take an activity, whether it be sport, drama or culture. “We do not get paid extra to do extramurals – it is expected. However, when applying for a new job, extramurals make you more marketable. If you do an extramural you generally get paid a little more and this also gets taken into consideration when appraisals are done at the end of the year. You may get a 1% more increase in your salary.” So what about those schools that can’t afford an extra stipend for teachers? Maybe the answer lies in community involvement. Parents and past pupils of the schools should be involved. Local businesses could be rallied to donate balls and equipment. Running costs nothing. People don’t need the latest running shoes, or a Tartan Track. All it takes is motivation and encouragement. Footballs are relatively cheap, and goal posts can be made from two large rocks, if need be. Netball courts are a bit more tricky, and so are rugby fields, because the poles and nets are essential. And I wouldn’t advise anyone to play hockey without shoes, at least. But the departments of basic education and sport could also help out a bit here. After all, sports fields could be used by the entire community. We need to get our children – and our adults – moving. Before our children are named as the most obese in the world. That’s not something we want to be best at.