A 360-degree Turn in Approach
With a vision to develop today’s school-going children into life-long active citizens, ELMS decided to focus on the training and development of physical education (PE) teachers in schools. PE teachers can positively influence the experience that school children have with regard to physical activities. These experiences have a major impact on the children’s life-long engagement with physical activities. Thus, to ensure maximum impact and reach of this initiative, ELMS Sports Foundation has been working with various state governments to promote physical literacy in India.
In the normal course of working, ELMS conducts all training activities on ground in collaboration with the respective state government’s top leadership. However, due to the current lockdown, all teacher training initiatives were put on hold. Since the government departments had a lot of additional responsibilities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, teacher training was certainly not considered a priority. As a result, once the lockdown was announced, it was difficult for the ELMS team to conduct any on-ground training for PE teachers. This situation made us quite unsure of the future of our training activities in the Covid lockdown.
Nevertheless, our team did not give up in spite of this challenging situation. We decided to dig deeper into the alternative ways that could be harnessed so as to address the learning needs of PE teachers and carry on with ELMS’ impact activities. The traditional top-down approach was not going to work. In fact, there was no solution in view when it came to reaching out to the PE teachers, getting them interested in the training and conducting the training programs. It is a known fact that PE teachers are less in number as compared to other subject teachers. And there has been a lack of forums/groups to bring whole PE teachers together.
Eventually, the ELMS team decided to reach out to the PE teachers through the universities/colleges they had passed out from. We decided to start at the base location of ELMS, i.e., Hyderabad. With support from Osmania University, Hyderabad, we were able to connect with the PE Teachers’ Association in Telangana. The initial few discussions led to a positive outcome. It turned out that the association had not conducted any such training activities in the past and was keen on holding this program.
At the next step, our team approached the Telangana State Government with the training proposal. However, the discussion did not move forward. Thus, ELMS made a proposal to the PE teachers’ association to reach out to the PE teachers across the state through peer-to-peer sharing. The Secretary of TGPETA (Telangana PE Teachers Association), K Vijaya Sagar, took the initiative of spreading word about the training. While he supported the ELMS training program, he was skeptical about the online approach, given that PE teacher training is very sports-science oriented and the PE community usually expects ground-level solutions. However, the team at ELMS held their ground and decided to go ahead with the online training.
Within a week’s time, more than 900 PE teachers in the state registered for the training program. To consolidate such a large number is a herculean task even in a formal structure, and many of the participants were from the interior parts of Telangana. Therefore, although this enthusiastic response made us happy, we wanted to put our best foot forward in terms of meeting the expectations of the PE teachers.
The inaugural session in the online training was held by India’s national badminton coach, Pullela Gopichand, and athletics coach, Nagapuri Ramesh. This was followed by other sessions on day one. The feedback we received from the participants and organizers on the first day itself was highly positive. However, the challenging part was maintaining the participants’ momentum post day one; there were no more star attractions and no institution mandate. We had to ride the wave only on the factors of engagement and content from here on. Yet, what happened next was beyond our imagination: Not only did we get an overwhelming response from the participants during the rest of the sessions, but they also asked for more such training sessions to be conducted in future. The workshop on the whole was received very well, and the positive feedback and personal messages dropped by the participants motivated the team at ELMS to keep going.
Some of the feedback shared by the participants about the session:
“My whole life I was made to understand that sports is Mahabharata but I found it to be Bhagwad Geeta through the workshop”
“This workshop made me look at my role as a PE teacher from a very different lens”
“We never understood PE the way it was covered (in this workshop)”
This success was very unique for us at ELMS as this project was a first of its kind where we applied the bottom-up approach. We had never imagined this level of reach without government support. However, the best aspect of this workshop was not just the training but the participants’ positive response towards spreading physical literacy in society via such activities.
In fact, they also requested ELMS to conduct on-ground training sessions when the situation improved. Post workshop, district-level Physical Literacy Learning Groups were created on Whatsapp, where the participants started sharing their activities and experiences. Additionally, two master trainers were mapped from each district to drive the initiative in their respective areas.
The success of the training program in the state of Telangana during a lockdown made us believe that adversity can bring a lot of innovation. In spite of the challenging situation, we could reach out to more PE teachers than before. Motivated by this accomplishment, we approached the PE teachers association in Maharashtra through the Agashe College of Physical Education with a proposal to conduct a similar program. They were very supportive of this initiative. The District Sports Office, Pune, also came forward to be a part of the organizing team. This program, too, saw a heightened interest and positive feedback from the participants. Many of them acknowledged the paradigm shift in their perspective towards physical education due to the training. The organizers approached ELMS to conduct a similar training for all PE teachers in the state of Maharashtra.
These two experiences helped us reflect on how a 360-degree turn in our approach further enriched our efforts to take physical literacy to government schools and helped us promote physical literacy not just online but also at the ground level. Had the ELMS team not experimented and or had we decided to wait for this lockdown to clear up so that we could follow the traditional government-led approach, we would not have seen this success today. In fact, this approach has matched the stance ELMS has taken in the current situation, which is, “Innovation flourishes in adversity!”