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Sports as a fundamental right: Amicus tells Supreme Court all schools should have 90 minutes daily time for games

AS part of a plea before the Supreme Court seeking to declare playing sports as a fundamental right, a report has been submitted by amicus curiae, Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan.

He suggested that the broad term “physical literacy” be adopted instead of sports, and that the same be recognized as a fundamental right protected by Article 21 of the Constitution. Article 21 guarantees every citizen the right to life and liberty. Also, all education boards, including the Central Board of Secondary Education and the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education, must be asked to ensure at least 90 minutes of every school day be dedicated to “free play and games”.

The Supreme Court, in August 2018, had asked for responses of the Centre and state governments in a public interest litigation filed by Kanishka Pandey, a sports researcher. Subsequently, the court had appointed Sankarnarayanan as an amicus in April 2019 to assist it and suggest measures to deal with the issue.

The petition also seeks to transfer sports to the concurrent list and to form an independent Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth Empowerment at union and state levels. The plea also asks for directions to governments to amend education policies to promote sports and make facilities available to enhance the opportunities to play sports.

The report makes a number of suggestions in this regard – from asking the government to establish a National Physical Literacy Mission to seeking important feedback received from three of India’s sporting legends, including former India and American National Collegiate Athletic Association tennis champion Somdev Kishore Devvarman, former Indian Hockey men’s national team captain Viren Rasquinha, and Indian badminton legend and current Chief National Coach of the Indian team Pullela Gopichand.

Here is a closer look at what the report says:

Fundamental right to physical literacy

The report states that having a fundamental right to literacy would mean identifying the intrinsic value of physical activity to human living. It would mean not seeing physical activity as an end in itself, and the establishment of physical activity/ physical education as a core component of the education curriculum.

Further, it would mean life-long opportunities to access physical activity universally, and everyone, no matter their age, ability, gender, class, or other needs or interests, be able to demand the right to be physically active and physically literate.

“A fundamental right to physical literacy would actualise and enhance the enjoyment of other fundamental rights. It would go a long way in enhancing the opportunities and freedom to express oneself. A physically literate individual would have a more fulfilling life of higher quality than one who is not. Quality of life is a facet of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. Physical literacy, as a building block, would go a long way in the promotion and realisation of the right to health and the right to education.”

The importance of sport, physical education, and playgrounds for the education of children, has, time and again, been recognized by several High Courts, the report added.

90 minutes for playing – a must

The Amicus has sought the following directions from the Supreme Court for actualizing the fundamental right to physical literacy. These are the directions for school boards.

  •         All school boards be directed to ensure that from the academic year commencing 2022-2023, at least 90 minutes of every school day will be dedicated to free play and games. All state governments to make this effective from the coming academic year.
  •         All non-residential colleges and schools compulsorily allow access during non-working hours to neighbourhood children to use their playgrounds and sports facilities for free, subject to basic norms of identification, security, and care.

Real-time data

The report has also made recommendations keeping in mind digital initiatives:

  •         To direct to the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, supported by NITI Aayog, to create a dashboard with real-time data on mapping of available playgrounds, open spaces and their utilization rates, availability and qualifications of Physical Education [PE] teachers, curricula, timetables, and equipment in educational institutions across the country.
  •         The dashboard may be integrated with an online dispute resolution mechanism for grievance redressal. Complaints about enforcing the right to physical literacy could be supported by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
  •         To ask the Union Ministry of Education to create e-learning courses for the training of PE teachers on physical literacy pedagogy and curricula, and the latest trends in facilitating inclusive activity and movement; and for the training of all teachers in the principles of physical literacy in education; further, to make completion of the course part of teacher accreditation and training processes.

The need for an empowered committee

The Amicus has submitted that the Court may direct the Ministry of Education, through the Department of School Education and Literacy, to form an empowered committee or working group consisting of senior officers from key line ministries, and independent experts from the fields of education, health, disability, sports and movement.

The Committee could be headed by a Court-appointed Convenor, who will provide regular reports to the Court. The Committee will be required to devise a strategic blueprint for actualizing the fundamental right, which must be completed within 90 days from the date of directions.

The Committee, along with other line ministries, school boards, and NITI Aayog could together devise a core curriculum for physical literacy education and skilling at school and college levels, which must be completed within 180 days once directions are passed, the report suggests.

The policy and the mission

This apart, the report has also proposed for all registered and unregistered private and public education institutions to have, publish and disseminate to all parents/guardians a Physical Literacy Policy.

The Policy would acknowledge the institution’s legal commitment to integrate physical literacy in all aspects of its curriculum, and would incorporate by reference the National Physical Literacy Mission and its future directions and protocols.

Another suggestion that the report makes is the setting up of a cross-ministry-high-level task force under the aegis of the NITI Aayog. The main task would be creating and implementing the National Physical Literacy Mission. This is to ensure that physical literacy is a part of the overall curriculum and syllabus for national and state school boards, in particular the National Curricular Framework for School Education 2020-21 and its subsequent iterations.

Click here to view the complete report.