Sports are more than just fun and games in Mozambique

Our next group of IWitnesses is visiting Mozambique with UNICEF, and today we kick off with a wonderful post about how sports can encourage children to go to school—and stay there.

Anastácia Wilson from UNICEF Mozambique
Anastácia Wilson from UNICEF Mozambique

My name is Anastácia Wilson and I work as an Education Programme Officer at UNICEF Maputo. I am responsible for physical education (PE) and sports under the Child Friendly Schools Initiative. PE and sports were introduced as part of the global International Inspiration Programme, a legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, with the goal of reaching 20 countries and 12 million children all over the world, aiming to connect children with the inspiring power of sports in the run up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012.

This programme led to the revitalization of PE in schools and it is producing encouraging results. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, we successfully advocated for creating space for PE and sports in schools, and this has led to the decision for scaling up PE and sports across the country. The key achievements have been reaching out to over 250,000 children in 450 schools, training over 5,000 teachers, and developing a PE manual.

My interest in sports comes from my school years, when I actively participated in school games and festivals. I travelled around the country and made long-lasting friendships based on the values of sports: team spirit, respect, self-control, fairness and responsibility.

As we are assessing the programme through the mid-term review, even though we acknowledge that PE and sports and other components of the Child Friendly Schools Initiative have been instrumental in attracting new learners as well as encouraging retention among those already attending schools, we also realise that there are still challenges around making children learn how to read and write well.

This takes me back to my first day in a classroom. I was about four years old, and my older sister took me along as there was nobody else at home to look after me. Her teacher was kind enough to let me in and gave me a paper to draw on. I thought to myself, “This is my chance to let everybody know that I can write. It seems so easy.” So, I started “copying” what was on the board and ended up with something like four pages of “meaningless characters.” When I reached home I proudly handed it over to my mother and said, “Look, I wonder why people spend so much time in school studying… it took me just one day!” She refrained in order to avoid my disappointment, but when the news leaked, it became the joke of the year. Weeks later my father bought me a slate and my sister started teaching me how to spell. I still remember how painful it is to have something written in your language but you can’t read it.

UNICEF Mozambique - Child Friendly Schools
UNICEF Mozambique – Child Friendly Schools

There is a common consensus that among the basic learning needs, reading and writing stand out. It is a basic and essential competency for the formation of critical thinking and to have access to other knowledge and continue learning throughout life.

Teaching children to read and write is one of the biggest challenges that the education system and society face in Mozambique. Thus, I am glad that I am in UNICEF working with the Ministry of Education to promote reading and support pilot programmes to help accelerate and strengthen children’s ability to read and write. I firmly believe that if we can use sports to encourage children to go to school, then we can help them become active learners—and that will improve their reading and writing skills. Not only that, but we can teach them how to be better citizens through sharing the values of sports, such as fair play and teamwork.

I am grateful and thankful to the IKEA Foundation and to other national and international like-minded partners for their support of UNICEF Mozambique’s education programmes. Their support is a very valuable and a worthwhile investment.

Anastácia Wilson works as Programme Officer in the Education Section at UNICEF Mozambique. She is responsible for the Physical Education and Sports Component of the Child Friendly Schools Initiative. Ms. Wilson trained as a teacher at the Language Institute and has a degree in Management and Business Administration from the Universidade Politécnica in Maputo. Prior to joining UNICEF, she worked as an English language teacher and Head of Department at Escola Industrial 1º de Maio in Maputo.

    Juli Riegler