Editor’s Note: Edson Chirowodza, physical education teacher in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe and volunteer at Generations For Peace, shares how sports can help prevent bullying and hazing in school.
On an international level, physical education is facing an uphill battle to gain recognition of its importance (and the support that follows) in both primary and secondary school. The UK, US, and much of the western hemisphere is cutting funding to PE—a very dangerous trend, not only due to its impact on students, but also because of its potential impact on both society and its development.
Growing up, you probably experienced or witnessed bullying, cliques, exclusion, and—with ever-growing prominence—hazing in school. In Zimbabwe, where I was raised, hazing was a particularly big problem across the country, which I witnessed whether I was attending a school in the small mining town of Chirumanzu or in Zimbabwe’s seventh-largest city, Kwekwe. In my country, a majority of hazing comes from seniors believing that bullying students at lower levels is part of their rights, thus leading younger students to continue this vicious cycle when they reach their senior years.
As I grew up, I began to see how simple activities like sports, when approached correctly, have the power to minimize bullying, cliques, exclusion, and especially hazing. Although in many cultures students experience hazing largely surrounding sports activities, when they are approached with carefully designed guidelines and purposes, physical education and the sport-based activities used therein have the power not only to build endurance and physical fitness, but also to build peace both in schools and their surrounding communities.
Here are three ways in which I have used my role in physical education to counter hazing and instill life skills in students that draw them toward peace and away from divisive actions:
1. Acknowledge the Value of Both Teamwork and Each Team Member
In our families, communities, careers, and social lives, teamwork is a key to success. However, it is difficult to build in youth when they are divided along lines such as age or year in school, which for many students are aspects that play deeply into their identity, friendships, and outlooks.
A lesson that I learned early on in my career and from volunteering with a youth-focused peace-building organisation called Generations For Peace, is that teamwork is not just about the cohesive way in which a group of people accomplish a task. It is also largely about recognising the contributions of each individual team member as they use their unique skills, strengths, and abilities to push the greater team toward success.
Some simple strategies I have found useful in ensuring this recognition occurs include creating new teams every class—combining students of different (though similar) age groups, class level, and overall background. This can result in united teams focused more on working together to win a game than on evaluating the differences between them, minimising age-based hazing between students at all levels. It is also helpful to ensure that the scope of activities is broad, so that each student feels at one point or another that they are using their natural strengths to benefit a team.
When approached strategically, specially designed sport-based activities aim not only to increase physical ability, but also to encourage unity and build off the strengths of each team member, reminding them of the power of working together and seeking unity over division.
It might not be surprising to learn that when these outlooks are fostered in the controlled environment offered by physical education, they begin to spread beyond the time set aside for such classes and enter into the rest of the school, reducing rates of hazing and other forms of violence.
2. Increase Student Resilience and Self-Worth through a Broad Range of Activities
Physical education also has the power to leave a positive impact on students who have suffered from or struggled as victims of hazing. Being the victim of hazing can have negative psychological impacts on youth that carry through to adulthood, affecting confidence, self-worth, and perceived value to society. One of the few places where students have the opportunity to contribute consistently to team-building and team-centric activities is physical education.
What I have found most helpful in creating a sense of worth in each student is implementing a broad range of creative activities that play to a wide array of physical and mental strengths. Some students are more physically inclined than others, and even for those who are more skilled in sports, there is a wide variety of expertise: some have endurance while others have strength, some have incredible hand-eye coordination while others’ are more capable at running, which requires entirely different abilities. Still others feel they lack physical abilities altogether, yet have strength in terms of strategy and creativity.
While it would be difficult to find a single activity that allows each student to utilise their strongest natural abilities, by introducing a broad range of physical education activities, each student will be sure to feel that their abilities lend themselves to meaningful contributions to their teams, allowing those who have been victims of hazing to increase their resilience and rebuild their self-worth.
3. Encourage Effective Communication in High-Pressure Contexts
Communication is a pivotal step in understanding one another, and mutual understanding is a key part of the process that builds acceptance and peace. I have learned two significant lessons about communication in a sport-created safe space: that which occurs during activities, and that which happens surrounding them.
While we might not think of sports in primary or secondary school as a high-pressure environment, the students engaged in the activities do not feel the same. During activities, many reveal their competitiveness, leading to activities with higher stakes and more engaged teams and players. Through team-based games, I have found that students become far more communicative on the field than they might otherwise be off of it, and I have witnessed first-hand how this can build friendships or at least acceptance that transcends physical education and returns with students back to other classes. However, supplementing these aspects of communication with the safe space afforded by sports is what seems to directly impact campus conflicts like hazing most directly.
One of sport’s most underrated powers is its ability to provide a safe space in which young people have the opportunity to focus on the game rather than their differences. Physical education by nature provides a structured format in which safe spaces are built, giving teachers the time to not only oversee activities, but also to take advantage of the unique sense of unity brought about by them to address issues and challenges facing students in meaningful discussions leading into and following the activities.
Physical education might be facing an uphill battle, but with challenges such as hazing becoming more and more prominent in schools on an international scale, it is time to recognise and stand for the class that teaches important life skills and lessons outside the four walls of a traditional classroom. It could shape the future of our youth and by extension, our communities and world on the whole.
Image created on Pablo.
The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.