Sports school crawls... As students shun physical education training
The premier training facility for sport education in Jamaica, GC Foster College, is struggling with a shrinking population as more students choose career paths away from those associated with physical education.
Dr Joyce Royal, principal of the facility, last week admitted that the student population has seen a significant decline as student athletes who would usually form the core of its potential recruitment are showing little interest in physical education as a viable career path.
"It's very, very serious. We have moved from 650 students to a little under 500 students in just one year, but I want to say it's not just the GC Foster College, it is a number of teacher-training institutions that are equally struggling, but because our main specialisation is sport the focus is more on us," declared Royal.
She noted that with training facilities available at other universities across the island, student athletes no longer see GC Foster College as the only option for fulfilling their sporting ambitions, while pursuing a college education.
"They don't just want to do physical education and sport anymore, they want to do business, they want to do law, a number of them had wanted to do physiotherapy, but that is only offered at the University of the West Indies, and so it's these different career paths that they want to pursue that is affecting our numbers."
Royal said the school was dealt another blow with the change in the Ministry of Education's study leave policy, which effectively ended the practice of teachers being paid while they pursued further study.
"A lot of our cohorts came from our Bachelor of Education in Sport programme, which allowed PE teachers and school coaches with a Diploma in Sports Education to come and upgrade their qualifications.
"But what is happening now is, because they are not being given paid study leave anymore, and they cannot afford to not work for any period of time, they have left the course," said Royal.
The effect of the dwindling numbers at the St Catherine- based institution has led to it struggling to find the money to upgrade its physical infrastructure and equipment, which was a main complaint of students of the college who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner recently.
"The netball court look like it no fix from about 1980, they could never get me to specialise in netball because I am not playing on that so-called court to break my foot," said one female student who asked not to be named.
"They need to put in some better weights and things in the gym because those in there a joke thing," said another student.
While Royal pointed to the fact that the gym was recently upgraded, she did accept that some facilities at the school were inadequate.
"Maintenance has been a problem and you can see it for yourself. The courts do need upgrading, the gym has recently been refurbished though, and it is super, but where the gym equipment is concerned, unfortunately, we really don't have the money to be able to afford world-class equipment, what we have there is what we beg, and Food For The Poor has been very kind to us," said Royal.
Athletic director at the college, Vently Brown, told The Sunday Gleaner he knew of at least one top athlete who declined a scholarship offer from GC Foster College, in order to pursue law studies at another institution.
Brown warned that a continued decline in the number of students choosing to pursue physical education training could have a deleterious effect on Jamaica's entire sporting programme.
"It would be devastating for Jamaica's sports programme because 80 per cent of coaches, physical education teachers, and officiating personnel throughout the primary, secondary and tertiary education programme are graduates of GC Foster College, so a shrinking student body points to potential shortages in this area which has been a major success for Jamaica in recent times," warned Brown.
He said the college is positioning itself to weather this storm by expanding its outreach to students beyond the region.
"What we have done is to widen our scope, and we have been somewhat successful as we currently have four students from Shanghai, China, on our student body.
"We have also initiated some exciting new programmes of study, such as the sport massage programme and the fitness instructor programme, which have already begun attracting new applications."