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  • This blog is written by specialists from the Education Division of the Inter-American Development Bank. Its objective is to provide arguments and ideas that will spark debate about how to transform education in Latin America and the Caribbean. This blog is a call to action for the reader. An idea, a project, or a question can make a difference.

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    Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son las del autor y no necesariamente reflejan las opiniones del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, sus directivas, la Asamblea de Gobernadores o sus países miembros.

    The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Management, its Board of Executive Directors or its member Governments.

    Strong Bodies, Stronger Minds

    By - 30 Jun 2011

    I read something recently that I found amazing. There is something that schools can do to increase education results by 20% and raise future employment by 40%. In addition, it boosts important social and emotional skills, as well as health prospects. No, it isn’t more computers, or high stakes testing, or even universal high quality early childhood development (a crusade of mine). Rather, it is school-based sports for girls.

    There is nothing new about the fact that sports are associated with higher grades and self-esteem. But, until recently, the chicken and egg question was never adequately resolved. Was sports driving these results or were those kids who were attracted to sports already high achievers with the ambition, resilience and opportunities needed to succeed? New research has untangled the direction of causality: controlling for self-selection (the chicken or egg), it finds that, for girls, participation in team sports can result in lifelong improvements in education, work and health.

    In the United States, Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a watershed piece of legislation passed in 1972, mandated that no person, on the basis of sex, could be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. The biggest impact of this change was on high school athletics, an area where explicitly discriminatory policies existed. Prior to Title IX, just about the only physical activities school offered girls were cheerleading and square-dancing. Only 1 in 27 girls played high school sports. Title IX required schools to increase female participation rates in athletics to near equity with boys’ participation rates. Six years after its enactment, at the point at which compliance was required, a quarter of all girls participated in some form of organized sports at school. Boys’ participation held constant over this time, at about 50%.

    Fast forward to the present.  More than 40% of girls play some type of organized sports at school in the US. Women make up about half of the labor force and have made strong headway into careers that were dominated by men in the early 70s.

    So what is it that sports does for girls? It can increase the number of years they spend in school, and the probabilities of attaining higher education and being employed fulltime. It can reduce rates of teenage pregnancy and obesity. It fosters skills valued by the labor market. Its participants must resolve conflicts within strictly defined parameters, rules and procedures. You win – or lose – by the rules, often as a team. It requires perseverance and focus, as well as motivation and competition.

    As Latin America and the Caribbean move towards incorporating more sports into the school day, the implications are clear. Measures need to be put in, up front, to ensure that these activities benefit 100% of the student population. Whether or not it will take a Title IX to make it happen remains an open question.

    4 Responses to “Strong Bodies, Stronger Minds”

    • C. Calderon Jensen :

      All this is true. The problem for women, particularly in countries with a strong culture of “machismo” is that regardless if they are good athletes, once they marry (and this expectation still exists) then the traditional “place” of the woman returns- at home, raising the kids and keeping house or perhaps a job. I know this may not be the case for most women with advanced degrees, but for those women without one (still the majority)even sports can’t get them out of their “cultural-norm”.
      My hope is that a well-rounded education, that includes sports and the arts, brings women into a culture where anything they want to achieve is not only possible but probable.

      • Aimee Verdisco :

        True, we share the same hope…however, not only the “machismo” gets in the way for women success, the lack of quality education ( and therefore the poor academic performance) prevent women (and men) from getting qualified jobs and better opportunities. If, as it seems to be, raising good athletes, leads to better academic achievement and to persuade women to finish not only high school but tertiary education then probably also leads to the cultural changes that you talk about.

    • An important observation! Sadly in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, organized sports teams for both boys and girls at he scholastic level are usually non-existant. On the other hand, there are other organized activities outside of sports (and perhaps less costly) that schools could also offer students to provide similar results of enhanced self esteem, responsibility, perseverance, etc.



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