Citius, Altius, Fortius: Olympic Education as an authentic learning experience
Dr Jorge Knijnik, School of Education, University of Western Sydney. A full version of this article was originally published in the University's 21st Century Learning blog.
In a few weeks the world's attention, and certainly the interest of most Australians will turn to the 2012 London Olympics – the paramount sports events on Earth. All media will be highlighting the world's 'faster, higher and stronger' athletes and parathletes. It will be quite impossible to escape from the powerful stories and images that will abound over our TV shows, the internet, and newspapers. The prowess of athletes from all nations, and even their failures, make fascinating dramas that rouse the curiosity of people from all sorts of backgrounds and ages.
Of course school communities are not immune to this universal movement. Children and adolescents, teachers and parents, the whole school community could be consumed with the Olympic Games. So, why do we not take this fascinating moment in our planet's life and use it to teach?
Schools and teachers should be prepared to take the Olympics into account while planning their lessons for the next couple of months. Our students could 'learn with the Olympics,' discuss its story and also examine the values and beliefs that the Olympic philosophy – Olympism – is based upon. They could investigate how it might or might not inspire the new generations. And more, as the Olympics is a universal event, is it possible to consider the existence of universal values connected to this movement, as proposed by the advocates of the Olympism and the Olympic Education?
Sport, the ethos of sport as well as all the individual sports, is still the essence of Olympism, which, as a philosophy is based on a true belief that sport should be a tool for humankind's educational, social and moral development.
The founder of the modern Olympic movement and first president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the French nobleman Pierre de Coubertin, considered education through sport to be one of the "cornerstones of the Olympic Movement." Coubertin regarded sport as a powerful tool that might "be chivalrous or corrupt, manly or bestial"… that could "be used to solidify peace or prepare to war." Hence, Olympism aims to deliver an Olympic Education which draws on the practical experiences provided by sporting engagement as a vehicle to incorporate and promote values education.
However, recent research in this area has demonstrated that values education needs to take into account a diverse variety of contents and educational strategies. The Olympic Education program that took place in Greece before the 2004 Athens Olympics evidences this fact, as 33% of the students' time in this educational intervention actively involved the Arts and theory-based lessons, planned to immerse the students in Olympic values and to transfer them to wider positive social behaviours and attitudes.
Such educational programs have already been in place in the UK for over seven years ahead of the opening of the London Olympics and have revitalized the Olympic Education activity of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In 2007 the IOC released a work-program to be used by teachers and tertiary educators, called Teaching Values: an Olympic Educational Toolkit (IOC, 2007), which presented pedagogical guidelines that are already or should be embedded in students' lives. The Teaching Values program uses strategies such as: dilemmas, role-play and small-group discussions seeking to promote Olympic values such as 'joy of effort', 'fair play', 'respect for others', 'pursuit of excellence' and 'balance between body, will and mind'. Using these methodologies, the IOC document is clearly aiming to challenge sports participants to make ethical decisions.
The Australian Olympic Committee has also developed an Olympic Education strategy that goes far beyond merely teaching sports education. This program is called the A.S.P.I.R.E. school network: A — for attitude, S — for sportsmanship, P– for pride, I — for individuality, R — for respect, and E — for express yourself.
ASPIRE provides school teachers with hundreds of resources to relate the Olympic Games to the students' daily lives. These not only improving students' knowledge about the Olympics, but also link values and cultural facts that are around or even entrenched in the Olympics, and in London and England as the venue of the 2012 Olympics.
On the ASPIRE website a primary teacher can find lesson plans for all stages of primary education – lessons that go from cultural facts, and English and Australian songs related to the Olympics (like the national anthems); to lessons that discuss traditional recipes of the Olympic host. They include lessons that challenges the students to reflect on an Olympic athlete's nutritional habits, and their impacts on the body, to lessons that deal with ethical values that are embedded in the ASPIRE purpose.
On the same website, a secondary student is able to develop a deep understanding of Australia's Olympic history by using a diverse range of e-learning milieus – respecting the students' individual needs and paces, and consequently corroborating with the aims of the ASPIRE program.
Using these resources, it's possible to elaborate on how the Olympic Games have historically been associated to Human and Civil Rights issues – reflecting on race issues raised by the 1968 Games in Mexico, or the Apartheid in South Africa, or even the women's struggle to participate in the Games.
Isn't this learning especially significant for teenagers who have just started to learn about their own rights as human beings, as well as other's Human Rights?
The acclaimed Brazilian educator Paulo Freire had a "golden rule" for each teacher and for each educational setting. He stated that any lesson, any educational methodology, any content, in order to be meaningful for the learner should be "rooted in concrete situations" – that learning must be always authentic and relevant.
Aiming to instil values education within a universal ethical framework known as Olympism, that underpins a contemporary Olympic Education program, reminds us that Freire was and still is right: Educators and students must contextualise the learning process towards a momentous and authentic educational process which promotes a better understanding of each of our lives.
Is there a better chance for this education than through the Olympic Games, with its glories, defeats, emotions and contradictions?
Some parts of this article are based on the forthcoming paper "Educating Copacabana: a critical analysis of the 'Second Half', an Olympic Education Program of Rio/2016", by Jorge Knijnik and Otavio Tavares.
6 July 2012