Physical education in schools core to Pacific islands performances at the Olympics

September 14, 2021
Oceania athletes at the Preliminaries of the Men's 100m in Tokyo 2020. Cawanibuka believes that Pacific island athletes can make podium finishes in more sports if Physical Education policy and implementation are recognised as key to athlete development as everything begins in childhood and needs a pathway to elite sports. | Photo: PACNEWS/ONOC

The TOKYO 2020 RETROSPECTIVE is part of ONOC’s closing coverage of the XXXII Olympiad. It brings several reflection pieces relevant to National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and regional and national sporting federations.



  • Physical education policy and implementation are critical to performance in Olympic Games and toward building a strong sporting industry in the Pacific islands
  • Parental attitudes to physical play and the outdoors are important toward the building of Olympic champions 
  • There is a need to navigate children and youth addiction to gadgets and social media creating a generation unlikely to be physically active - in some cases including parents
  • Children need all the outdoor play and physical education time allocated to them in the education system, and where deficient, needs to be addressed
  • While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to less play and physical activity, the United Nations (UN) has recognised sport as a critical component of current and post-pandemic national recovery plans and it is important that children and schools draw from this at national level in the Pacific islands

It starts in childhood. It is well recognised that physical education (PE) in schools is a core building block leading to physical activity and the development of an active sporting industry. 

More importantly, it is the building block to the production of elite athletes who make podium finishes at global sporting platforms such as the multi-sport Olympic Games and to World Championships specific to each sport. It is also relevant to performances at the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) and other platforms Pacific island countries participate in.

Cawanibuka said that PE in schools is the very foundation upon which everything at national level sports rests. This also directly influences national and regional Pacific islands ability to build a vibrant sporting industry. 

He said, “The sport industry is a big industry and it’s one of our biggest earners for the nation [Fiji]  but it needs to be a subject that is respected within the teaching fraternity first, and then it will be embraced and respected by students. 

“This needs to come from the policy-makers as currently, PE periods in most schools are a mixture of teachers giving students a ball to run around a ground with, using the periods to catch up on other subjects, so the PE allocations are used to cover the syllabus.

“This must change.”

Cawanibuka said, “We have proven that sports is a viable career choice and that our athletes can make successful and lucrative livelihoods overseas which they bring back to Fiji in many ways.

“A big solution to our problems is to go back to the school system because that’s where we develop the basic skills and discipline.

“It is also the place where we are losing a big pool of our sporting talent.”

He added that, “We have children in our education system for about thirteen to fourteen years divided into three terms - and in one term we have fourteen weeks - you treat that as fourteen opportunities of learning and growth per term, and that to make a difference in a child’s life. 

“Obviously not everyone is going to become a sports person but those that don’t learn to appreciate physical activity and healthy lifestyles because good health is key to our quality of life and work and no one loses in this.”

Cawanibuka said that perceptions and attitudes toward PE in schools need to change in order to facilitate and enable a national approach to building a sporting industry that allows career pathways in sports and its related support industries.

He said, “Recognising the value of PE and activating a scientific approach to sports will provide us a catalogue of information on every child’s physical performance from primary to secondary school - imagine us receiving this comprehensive data by the time they come to us.

“A few years ago my father was with a team at the Fiji National University [in Sports Science] that developed a physical education manual that created standardised tests to track the development and growth of children through school.

“The manual is there as it has been launched but we still don’t know how many PE teachers are implementing it and if they are, whether they are keeping data.

“But imagine if we use this and track our children’s development - the implications for health, athletic development, and for transfer to identified sports like rugby.

“As I mentioned earlier, the solution to most of our problems in rugby and probably most other sports, is how we run this in schools - the manual on PE has been completed but policy-makers need to ensure it is being implemented and monitored.”

In conclusion he said, “That being said we need attitudes to play and the outdoors to change as well - children need play in their infancy and Early Childhood Education (ECE) period in order to develop social and motor skills.

“This is even more important now that we have gadgets and children are spending less time in physical activities.

“These are big issues that need discussion,” Cawanibuka said, “but it can be done.

“We stand to benefit and make huge changes to our Olympic performance and sports livelihoods and careers figures if we return to the basic building block - our children and how PE is delivered in schools."


This is part of a POST-TOKYO 2020 LEARNING SERIES which uses a Pacific island country, Fiji, as lens to explore possibilities for island countries in the Pacific. Fiji was the only Pacific island country in our Oceania Continent to achieve podium finishes: a gold medal (Men’s Sevens Rugby) and a bronze (Women’s Sevens Rugby). 

This series of interlinked media articles present a thread on the lessons and some issues that need further reflection and sharing at national and regional levels. 

  1. Fijiana bronze medal win to transform women in rugby in Fiji
  2. Acknowledgement 
  3. A Pacific sport industry is possible - Ambassador Mataitoga
  4. Nacanieli Cawanibuka | Part 1 of 3: Dignity for athletes critical for high performance - contracts and salaries
  5. Nacanieli Cawanibuka | Part 2 of 3: Pacific culture and strong families important to developing sport in the islands
  6. Nacanieli Cawanibuka | Part 3 of 3: Physical education in schools core to Pacific islands performances at the Olympics


About ONOC 
Established in 1981, the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) is one of five Continental Associations. It looks after the interests of 17 member nations in the Oceania Region, including Australia and New Zealand as well as seven associate members. 

ONOC has an office in Guam where Secretary General Mr. Ricardo Blas is based and the Secretariat in Suva, Fiji, where the Office of the President Dr Robin Mitchell is located.

All services and-programmes are based on the ONOC Strategic Plan for 2018-2021, and its 4 Core Functions of (1) Building and Strengthening NOCs Capacity (2) Cultivating Strategic Partnerships (3) Contributing towards Sporting Excellence and (4) Leading by Example.


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