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How I Teach - PE and the plight of child labourers

Open students' eyes to the physical challenges faced by some of the world's poorest children by setting them unusual tasks

Open students' eyes to the physical challenges faced by some of the world's poorest children by setting them unusual tasks

Hard labour. What does it mean to your students? To Raymond and Daniel, two young boys living in poverty in rural Ghana, it means eight-hour shifts in a dangerous gold mine. It means lifting, digging, twisting and bending - in the dark, underground, and in extreme heat and humidity - just to earn enough money to survive. Their work is back-breaking and repetitive, and leaves little time for family and friends.

I learned about these boys in films for schools released by charity event Sport Relief. As I watched, I thought about how different their lives are to those of most young people in the UK. However tough day-to-day existence can be for some of our kids, the sheer physical effort expended by these child labourers is phenomenal. So how can we get our students to appreciate the physical challenges that many children living in poverty face, and be inspired to do something about it?

As a physical education (PE) specialist, I am used to setting challenges that test endurance and skills. Of course, the tasks are not on this scale - no eight-hour stretch in dark and dangerous conditions with only a limited supply of food and water. Nevertheless, I think that PE, with its emphasis on physical challenges, has a role to play in getting young people to think about the impact of hard labour.

As a starting point, put the young people in charge. The Ghanaian children are taking responsibility for supporting their families, so surely we can ask our sports councils or young leaders to take on a project such as this?

Then prompt them to relate Raymond and Daniel's lives to activities within the school day. In Ghana, children walk to work, carrying tools and equipment in the searing heat. So how about asking your students to walk to school, carrying all their books and equipment, instead of taking the bus?

Raymond and Daniel work to support their families and ensure their communities survive. Students could mirror this by forming their own "communities", such as houses and farms, and completing challenges that earn them privileges.

Children involved in mining dig for gold in deep, dark holes and carry heavy pans to the water's edge to separate the gold from the soil. Could you design an obstacle course in the school grounds that mirrors these physical exertions? Patches of earth they could dig and transport or rocks they could move would make these activities more realistic.

You could even design a circuit that uses a range of activities to test strength (lifting and carrying) and cardio activity (walking to work or to the water's edge with heavy pans). A 30-minute circuit would represent just one-sixteenth of Raymond or Daniel's eight-hour shift.

Setting physical tasks that open students' eyes to the wider world isn't a new idea, but when they are encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of children involved in hard labour, the opportunities for creative learning are immense.

Alan Watkinson is partnership director of Sport Impact, which is committed to enhancing young people's PE and sport experience. Find out more about Raymond and Daniel, and about this year's Sport Relief fundraiser on 21 March, at www.sportrelief.comschools


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