ASER 2022 returned to the field nationwide after a gap of 4 years. The last full ASER survey was ASER 2018, which was also the first time the survey captured basic information on government school physical education and sports infrastructure of rural primary schools.
We decided to include questions on school infrastructure because there was an all-round buzz to promote grassroot sports – even the national government took many new measures to promote sports in the grassroot, the intent of which was reflected in the newly named Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan document, as it was then known, replacing the nomenclature of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2018.
The Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan which was announced in the 2018 budget, articulated providing for sports equipment, making sports education an integral part of the curriculum, and providing support to Khelo India, an annual pan Indian school games then (now called Khelo India Youth Games, to include the college going youths also).
The ASER 2018 school physical education findings therefore can be deemed to be a baseline of rural government school sports infrastructure.
Under the Samagra Shiksha, for the first time provision of an annual grant for sports equipment has been made. Every Government school will receive sports grant of Rs. 5000 for Primary Schools, Rs. 10,000 for upper primary schools and up to Rs. 25,000 for secondary and senior secondary schools for meeting expenses of procuring sports equipment for indoor & outdoor games.
The Samagra Shiksha document also states the objectives of the grant and how to improve the sports facilities in schools.1
India declared a national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the 3rd week of March, as did practically the whole world. The lockdown led to closure of schools for a long time, and most children were confined to home or their immediate neighbourhood in the case of rural India. Almost 2 academic years were lost.
A UN policy brief in May 2020 observed that the closure of education institutions around the world due to COVID-19 has also impacted the sports education sector. The brief further noted that low-income families are especially vulnerable to negative effects of stay-at-home rules as they tend to have sub-standard accommodations and more confined spaces, making it difficult to engage in physical exercise.
Many innovative practices were employed to try and keep the children in touch with education. Digital platforms were widely used in this quest. Unlike education, PE is not easy to impart digitally. But, in some countries PE teachers managed to use the digital platform effectively!
In India, school PE and sports, which was just about gaining momentum was affected badly, because most of the effort the government and the civil society organisations was directed to ensure that children got food and nutrition and didn't lose touch with education.
ASER 2022 reached 616 districts and a total of 19,060 villages in rural India. 374,554 households and 699,597 children in the age group 3 to 16 were surveyed. Our surveyors also visited 17,002 government schools with primary sections, 9,577 were primary schools and 7,425 were upper primary schools.
Like in ASER 2018, ASER 2022 volunteers also collected some physical education and sports related information, along with information on school facilities mandated by RTE.
ASER 2022 physical education findings
ASER 2022 sought the following information about every elementary school visited:
- Weekly time allotted to physical education for every class.
- Whether the school had a physical education teacher.
- Playground inside the school premises.
- Availability of sports equipment in the school.
Weekly time allotted to physical education for every class
This question was asked differently in ASER 2018; hence we could not compare with ASER 2022 findings. ASER 2022 found that nationally, 3/4th of the schools visited have a weekly time allotted to physical education for every class.
12 states reported a higher proportion of schools with weekly physical education classes than the national average. Maharashtra with 96%, Gujarat 91.4%, Chhattisgarh 91.3%, Uttarakhand 90% and Uttar Pradesh 88.7% were found to be the top complying states (Figure 1).
Out of the bottom 5 states, surprisingly 4 are from the Northeast (Figure 2). Manipur, traditionally a powerhouse of Indian sports, being at the bottom with only 21.1% of schools with a regular weekly physical education class.
But it should also be noted that Manipur is a state were government school enrollment is very low, at only 1/3rd of the total enrolled children. Nagaland 24.1%, Arunachal 30%, Meghalaya 44.4% and Telangana 45.9% are the other 4 bottom ranked states in this category.
PE teachers in the schools visited
ASER 2022 recorded the presence of PE teachers under 3 categories: schools with dedicated PE teachers, schools with 'other' teacher doubling up as a PE teacher, and schools with no PE teacher at all. We have reported the findings separately for Primary and Upper Primary schools.
Schools with separate (dedicated) physical education (PE) teachers
Nationally, ASER 2022 found that only about 16% schools of the schools visited had a dedicated PE teacher, 4.3% in primary and 31.3% in upper primary. The top 5 states were recorded to be Jammu & Kashmir4 46.5%, Gujarat 45.7%, Rajasthan 42.9%, Sikkim 37.2% and Bihar 36.9% (Table 1)
Comparing the 2022 data with the findings from ASER 2018, marked improvement in the status of dedicated PE teachers is noticed in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat, and Sikkim: 11%age point in Sikkim's case, 16 %age point in Gujarat and 23.1%age point for Jammu & Kashmir. Not much change in Bihar, but in Rajasthan's case a sharp dip is noticeable.
The bottom 5 states in this category, all below the national average are Himachal Pradesh with 1.2%, Assam 2.3%, Chhattisgarh 2.3%, West Bengal 2.3% and Jharkhand 4.6%. Barring Jharkhand which is just about holding on to its ASER 2018 status, a downward trend can be evidenced in ASER 2022, in the other 4 states. (TABLE 2)
Schools with 'other' physical education (PE) teachers
This category of schoolteachers are other subject teachers, non-PE, of the schools. In many states the trend is to use them as substitute PE teachers. A very high proportion of 'other' PE teachers were recorded in ASER 2022 in many states. Maharashtra with 82.9%, Uttarakhand 79.6%, Chhattisgarh
76.2%, West Bengal 71.9% and Uttar Pradesh 71.6% were the top 5 states that use 'other' teachers as PE teachers. The trend has continued since ASER 2018. Upward trend in ASER 2022 was evidenced in all these states barring Uttar Pradesh. (TABLE 3)
Schools with no physical education (PE) teachers
Out of 5 top states where ASER 2022 recorded schools without any PE teachers of any kind at all, 4 are from the Northeast. Manipur 74.5%, Nagaland 69.7%, Arunachal Pradesh 69.1% and Meghalaya 64%. (TABLE 4) These are the same states which recorded a high proportion of schools without any weekly PE classes.
A drop from ASER 2018 is also witnessed in these 4 North-eastern states. Tamil Nadu with 47.1% makes up the 5th state in this group, but a marked improvement from 29.1% from ASER 2018 has been seen here.
Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Maharashtra are states that have the least number schools with No PE teachers of any kind, both dedicated and 'other'. Maharashtra leads the list with 8.3%, followed by Gujarat 11.2%, Uttarakhand 14.7%, Uttar Pradesh 17.3% and Rajasthan 18.1%. (TABLE 5)
Barring Gujarat where the numbers have gone down, the other 4 states recorded an upward trend of schools with no PE teachers.
Availability of playground inside the school premises
Nationally just over 2/3rd of the rural primary schools visited had a playground inside the premises. In ASER 2022 it has gone up marginally from 66.5% in ASER 2018 to 68.8%. Amongst the top 5 states, Tripura 91%, Sikkim 87.2%, Maharashtra 85.6%, Haryana 84.1% and Himachal 82.8%, only Tripura has evidenced a sharp rise from 83.5% in ASER 2018 to 91% in ASER 2022.
The rest have gone up marginally, barring Maharashtra and Sikkim. (TABLE 6)
The bottom 5 states in this category of %age schools with playground in school show an interesting upward trend from ASER 2018. In Odisha it has gone up from 31.6% in ASER 2018 to 32.3% in ASER 2022, similarly Jharkhand 39.1 to 43.3, Nagaland 52.3 to 53.8, Bihar 51.1% to 54.7 and West Bengal 52.6% to 57.8%. (TABLE 7)
Availability of sports equipment in schools
The Samagra Shiksha policy of an annual grant for sports equipment to schools seems to have worked well in the past year. The grant expressly states every government school will receive sports grant of Rs. 5000 for Primary Schools, Rs. 10,000 for upper primary schools and up to Rs. 25,000 for secondary and senior secondary schools for meeting expenses on procuring sports equipment for indoor & outdoor games.
A sharp rise in availability of sports equipment in rural elementary schools has been evidenced nationally. From 62.5% availability of sports equipment in ASER 2018 it has increased to 81.4% in ASER 2022. The top 5 states of the country in this category are Uttar Pradesh 57.1% to 95.8%, Himachal Pradesh 69.9% to 95.4%, Tripura 54.9% to 94.6%, Punjab 58.4% to 92% and Sikkim 79.4% to 91.5% (TABLE 8)
The upward trend of availability of sports equipment in school was also evidenced in some of the bottom 5 states. Meghalaya with 41.9%, the lowest in the country in ASER 2022, has seen a rise from19.7% in ASER 2018; so has Arunachal Pradesh from 28.9% in ASER 2018 to 56.7% in ASER 2022.
The rise in West Bengal is modest from 54.3% to 57.7%. A fractional rise in Manipur. But, Telangana has seen a slump from 59.1% to 48.6% (TABLE 9)
When schools reopened after the long Covid induced lockdown, many educationists urged the authorities to set aside the business-as-usual curriculum-based transaction with children, when they re-joined school. Instead, they suggested the children be engaged in fun games, sports and extra-curricular activities to get used to school life.
It is now universally accepted that physical education and sports play an important role in moulding a child's overall development. Many soft skills, like teamwork, leadership, decision making etc. can be acquired by participating in sports. Even academic achievement improves, as researchers and academicians in West are trying to establish.5
Therefore, the Government of India's ramping up of school physical education and sports infrastructure, as has been evidenced in ASER 2022, particularly in terms of availability of sports equipment in school, is indeed laudable.
However, there remains a grey area in the way the Samagra Shiksha objectives to promote sports have been articulated over the last 4 years.
Are we promoting PE and sports just from the perspective of children enjoying themselves by participating in these activities, or are we looking at it from the perspective of exposing the children to various sporting disciplines, which can lead these children to move to 'play for excellence'?
This will entail developing sports infrastructure at least at district level. Each district can focus on just 2 to 3 sporting disciplines that are popular in the respective districts. Historically, we have pockets where certain sporting disciplines have more following, like hockey in Punjab, Sansarpur has produced many hockey legends.
Kerala has a great track and field and football culture, as has West Bengal.
Many civil society organisations are doing a great job to promote sports at the grassroot level. They have shattered many stereotypes by their path breaking activities.
One example is the Brahmaputra Volleyball League, started by the only international volleyball player from Assam and ex-captain of our national team, Abhijit Bhattacharyya for under 16 and under 12 children.
In the first edition there were 33 boys team and 17 girls and now in the 3rd edition there are 393 teams out of which 170 plus are girls team. There was hardly any interest in volleyball in Assam till Abhijit started.
Naandi Foundation's Naanhi Kali programme targeted at adolescent girls has built in a sports component into their programme. They have started the Toofan Games. The finals of the Toofan Games, which is the 3rd edition, was held in the last week of January in Mumbai.
Over 100,000 secondary school Nanhi Kalis across 5000+ villages in 9 states participated in the village level games. The top performing athletes from the village level games went on to compete at the district level games. And then the 130 best performing athletes from all the 20 districts qualified for the Mumbai event.
Corporate India is also doing their bit to promote these civil society endeavours by funding them. Only a tripartite partnership between the government, corporate and civil society organisations can catalyse grassroot sports and thereby fulfil policy objectives laid out by the Government of India.
School is typically the first contact for children to learn about physical education and participate in organised sports. Much more needs to be done in a planned manner to promote grassroot sports.