A Calcutta school has waived tuition fees for the best athlete on its campus, scoring a rare goal for sport in a country of over one billion bereft of Olympic glory.
Mahadevi Birla World Academy’s special scholarship for excellence in sport was announced at its annual prize-distribution function to loud cheers that is resonating across campuses in town.
“Beginning the new session, we will be declaring a special award for a student who has distinguished herself in sport and Krida Kunj activities. The school management has consented to waive the tuition fee for the entire year for the deserving student,” principal Anjana Saha told a packed auditorium of students and parents.
The school’s decision echoes the objective behind the Union human resource development ministry’s recommendation that sport be made a part of the school curriculum. Former Union sports minister Ajay Maken had released a draft document last August for a National Physical Fitness Programme that would test schoolchildren from Class V onwards and link their performance in sport with academic achievement.
At Mahadevi Birla, participation in at least two sporting activities is already compulsory from classes III to VII. The Park Circus campus has a three-storey building called Krida Kunj exclusively for indoor sport, including roller skating, swimming, table tennis and snooker. “We want to recognise sport as something as important as scholastic activity,” principal Saha said.
Many schools in Calcutta, including some of the better ones in terms of academic achievement, don’t have a playground. Students of these institutions spend their recess and even the sports period engaging in sedentary activities. Their annual sports meet in a hired ground is more of a carnival than a showcase for sporting ability.
Even in schools with infrastructure and a culture of sporting activity, gaming is now more popular than the games they are supposed to grow up playing.
St. James’ School awards marks to students for participating in sport but most of them are still reluctant to get their hands and feet dirty in the playground during the recess, according to a teacher.
“You will find almost 70 per cent of the students chatting in the canteen during the break. The 30 per cent who hit the playground are mostly from junior school,” the teacher said.
Calcutta Girls’ High School too has made participation in the annual sports meet compulsory from nursery till Class XI, exempting classes X and XII because of the board exams. The list of excuses to dodge the rule is a long one.
“Parents write to us with medical reports appended about their children being allergic to heat or dust. I tell them your daughters might be stronger and more capable than you think,” principal Basanti Biswas said.
La Martiniere for Boys holds inter-house tournaments in cricket, hockey, football, rugby and swimming to ensure that sport is an integral part of education, if not a mandatory one.
Mahadevi Birla’s table tennis star Surbhi Patwari, the first to win the special scholarship, hopes her reward will inspire other students to take sport more seriously. “The challenge is to retain the crown,” the Class VII student said with a smile. Friend and TT doubles partner Prithika Sengupta of Class VIII is already her rival for the next scholarship.
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