Friday July 6, 2012
A sports day like no other
By SHARON LING
AT a school sports day earlier this week, children were taking part enthusiastically in a variety of events, while their teachers and parents cheered them on from the side.
This was no ordinary sports day, though. For a start, it didn’t take place in a stadium or sports facility but in the school’s multi-purpose hall.
Nor were there the usual track and field events like 100m sprint, long jump or high jump.
This sports day was organised by the Perkata Special School for its students, who have various intellectual disabilities like Down Syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.
Perkata is the Sarawak Association for the Welfare of Intellectually Disabled Children. Its school, located at Jalan Ong Tiang Swee in Kuching, was started in the 1970s and currently has 136 students from the ages of four to 17.
Its sports day is an annual event, held not just for the children and their parents to have fun but as an integral part of the school’s curriculum.
“The sports activities are designed to develop gross and fine motor skills as well as cognitive skills,” principal Doreen Tie explained.
She said the teachers would come up with a number of events each year to suit the children’s abilities.
“Sometimes we modify the old events or we introduce new ones. Over the years, as the children take part in the sports day each year, we find that their motor skills have improved.”
In one event, children took turns to throw three balls through a hoop about a metre away. Each attempt, including the unsuccessful ones, was greeted with encouragement and cheers of support from teachers and parents.
“This activity helps to train the children’s looking skills, because they have to look at the hoop to throw the balls accurately,” Tie said, adding that the students had undergone training since the last week of May to prepare for the sports day.
It was heartwarming to see the smiles on the faces of the children who succeeded in the task. Even those who did not manage it seemed happy just to be able to take part in the game.
Another event, which was designed for the lower-functioning students, had them reaching out to touch a gym ball. Higher-functioning students were able to take part in simple running races.
The sports day ended with fun events for teachers and parents, such as a relay to fill a bottle with water from a pail and walking with a small cushion balanced on the head.
Besides the sports day, the school organises various activities and events for the students as part of their learning process.
Flipping through a photo album, Tie showed me pictures of the school’s activities and the students in action. I was impressed by their educational trips, which took the students to places like the Kuching International Airport, Fire and Rescue Services Department, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) and Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.
The trips give the students exposure to the outside world, including the work environment, as some of them would be able to find employment one day. At the same time, they help to create greater public awareness and empathy about the intellectually disabled.
”We also take some of the children to go bowling and to play futsal and badminton,” Tie said.
Along with a specially designed syllabus, all these activities aim to help the children develop physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally.
As Tie explained, “We see the potential of each child and try to develop them to their fullest potential.”
The school’s philosophy is to emphasise what the children can do, not what they cannot do.
Watching them during their sports day, I felt privileged to have seen this philosophy in practice. They may be special children with special needs, but with the right environment and care, they too can learn living skills and gain an education.