Several West Java's rowers train Situ Cipule in Karawang, West Java, last month for the 20th National Sports Week (PON) in Papua on 2-13 October. (Antara Photo/M. Ibnu Chazar)

Physical Education: The Forgotten Subject in the Time of Pandemic


AUGUST 05, 2020

The massive impact of Covid-19 has wholly stalled the world of sports. Many believed that the pandemic might become a friendly reset-button for the sports industry. But recently, the situation does not hold much water.

Multidimensional impact of the global outbreak casts light on a vast inequality in some national contexts, particularly in Indonesia. The notion of “from-home” on various activities, such as bringing home office and school works, unveils chronic and unaddressed socio-economic discrepancies in the country.

On the other side, the crisis has put a firm halt on at-school learning activity. Online distance learning is becoming the primary tool to ensure that school subjects are well delivered. But little did people remember that not all areas in Indonesia even have electricity power around the clock, let alone an internet connection.

Also, on the island of Java, which is deemed central due to its proximity to the capital, the economic gap has left several schools to fight for fundamental rights on their own. The Unesco recommendation to transform school subjects into app-based learning has not touched the base in Indonesia.


Physical Education (PE) teachers are the group of the school subject who have been repeatedly disempowered even without the pandemic. PE has frequently been regarded as not intellectual enough at schools; therefore, PE becomes the one that always gives leeway for other “more- important” subjects.

Youth Sport Trust, a sports charity based in the United Kingdom, found 38 percent of English secondary schools have cut PE from their timetable since 2012. Correspondingly, Indonesian policymakers decided to drop PE from senior vocational-school students’ curriculum in late 2018 to give the twelfth-grade students more time to prepare for the national examination.

Recently, due to the Covid-19, PE teachers are being marginalized from their workplaces, particularly private schools, due to the limitation of the effectiveness of their teaching deliveries during the pandemic. They are either being reassigned as the schools’ ‘security forces’ or completely dismissed with off school jobs.

Contrary to what is sometimes perceived by policymakers, academia has cited that physical activity is proven as one of the ways of coping with stress and anxiety caused by loads of school works. A finding based on a randomized controlled trial of 67 adolescents in the so-called Edufit study suggests that cognitive performance and academic achievement can benefit from increased PE-session intensity.

Similarly, a systematic review by the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain, which involves 26 studies of children aged 4 to 13, shows that PE, by and large, improves mathematics-related and reading skills as well as pupils’ composite scores. In addition, the emerging trend of school children’s overweight and obesity in Indonesia is concerning.

According to the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS), school children aged between 13 and 15 in the country were 7 percent overweight and obese in 2007. The prevalence had significantly increased ever since, from 10.8 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2018, according to basic health researches of the Indonesian Health Ministry.

It is admittedly costly to develop an extensive action plan that is able to tackle this issue. It also requires an overall reform on the children’s daily routine at home as well as at school. Thus, it is worth acknowledging that PE is the front runner for promoting a lifelong active lifestyle, which is inevitably apparent to curb the prevalence of overweight and obesity.

Yet, addressing the marginalization of PE teachers in urban areas is one thing. When distance learning is celebrated as “new normal” in the city, the online-based learning initiative requires a good deal of technology instruments for teachers in rural areas. Not only we have to address the IT skills gap, but also to afford such tools is beyond their capacity.

However, the question of lacking in infrastructure is not theirs to ask. It is our government’s job to shoulder the burden. In recent webinars about PE during the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia, similar concerns from the impacted PE teachers have been brought to different presenting policymakers. But until the time I am writing, the government has persistently put elite sports as its top priority.

This unbalanced stance with sport-for-all policy has remained unchanged for many years in the country where public sports facilities are even arguably lacking. Ganesport Institute found that state budget at the Indonesian Sports Ministry allocated to high-performance sports was four times higher than that of grassroots sports from 2014 to 2018.

Moreover, the institute also found in 2019 that elite sports policy had been largely ineffective, as Indonesia’s cost per medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics reached Rp 1.1 trillion (at the time was equivalent to US$ 84.6 million), far more expensive than that of the UK’s Team GB with around US$ 9.3 million costs per medal after the accumulation of four-year cycle of funding into the elite sports.

Has our national sports policy been misguided? To support the earlier argument, recently, a high- profile national sports webinar presented the analogy of turtle hatchlings for Indonesia’s talent scouting system. It described that only a few could survive the hatchling frenzy and enter the wave wash, while the rest were failing altogether.

The portrayal seems to ring the bell on China's athlete selection system, Ju Guo Ti Zhi, or whole country support for the elite sports system. Under the system, only 5 percent of young athletes at more than 3,000 Chinese sports schools could eventually become professionals.

Then how are they going to deal with the “failed hatchlings”? The government’s failure to advise PE problems can further exacerbate poor sports participation in Indonesia. Based on Statistics Indonesia (BPS), only 28 out of 100 people are engaged in sports activities.

The country has the lowest participation in doing sports compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, which hold rates at more than 30 percent, averagely. Then, is it safe to assume that Indonesia does not even have an adequate pool of “eggs” to lay?

If anything, it should be noted that a vast body of research has confirmed a positive relationship between physical activity and economic growth, with evidence found in developed countries. It is instead a government’s top priority to increase the physical activity level of its citizens. My strong presumption based on case studies in other countries suggests that insufficient physical activity is somewhat responsible for the surging claims of medical insurance.

Indonesia’s governmental executives and policymakers are notorious for its ever-changing foot-dragged policies in terms of the public health emergency, while the matter of addressing inequality in the intersection of education and sports is fallen to the blind side of the field. They need a little nudge to make them aware that sport is not only about its professional industry and elite athletes. All the gold medal promises in international sporting events mean less when other social dimensions in sports remain neglected.

Renata Melati Putri is a research associate and policy analyst at Ganesport Institute, the first organization focusing on sports policy and management in Indonesia.