Though there are a host of contributing reasons, it is our school PE programmes that must take the underlying responsibility for our general lack of sporting ethos and achievement. A glance at any of our school boards’ PE syllabi is enough to confirm that they bear no resemblance to syllabi in other countries, and many traditional schools cling to PE programmes that have changed little from their founding in the early 19th century. A vast majority of schools do not have PE teaching space and schools that do have ample sports fields usually fill them with international-size pitches and adult-size facilities that are designed for adult elite athletes, not for developing children.

But it’s not only the lack of facilities or the inappropriate design of our sports fields that is the problem. The whole organization of our schools is not conducive to developing modern athletes. We still rotate “games". We still cling to the house system, when “competition" between the same athletes is repeated year after year after year. Long after foreign schools have replaced house matches, school tournaments and sports days with little leagues, mini soccer leagues and parent-child fun days, we plod on in the same old way.

And we still discriminate. In other countries, equal opportunity laws have radically altered PE for children. Discriminating against the less able by giving extra coaching/perks to better athletes is forbidden, and the emphasis is on giving equal time and resources to all children regardless of their prowess or gender. Gender bias and extra sports teaching for the select few have left us seriously out of sync with PE in other countries.

Body basics: Our schools don’t have modern PE programmes. Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint

There is also a problem with staffing. In only a few schools are teaching staff appointed to teach a particular subject such as football or cricket or basketball. In most of our schools we simply employ “PE teachers" as if PE is one subject rather than a group of subjects. The lackadaisical approach to PE staff is not simply restricted to who is employed, but also in the way they are treated and what they do. In our schools they do not teach sport, they teach “games" and are treated as second-class citizens primarily engaged in keeping “discipline".

So, what is to be done? There is a desperate and urgent need to educate the school boards and school managements in what is modern PE. There is an urgent need to introduce egalitarian PE policies in our schools. There is an urgent need to introduce PE programmes with age-appropriate syllabi, lessons and learning outcomes. There is also an urgent need for extra-curricular activities that incorporate little leagues, Kanga or Kwik Cricket Leagues, mini soccer leagues and professional sports academies.

Imagine that your organization was doing the same thing, in the same way, for the last 100 years. You would not be surprised if foreign competitors, no matter how small, consistently out- performed you. Modernizing PE would lead to greater achievements for the nation, healthier, more knowledgeable children, more capable sports managers, better sporting performance and add to our national pride.

Abha Adams is an education consultant. She writes a monthly column on training and education as they relate to careers and the workplace.

Write to Abha at studycentre@livemint.com