A new study shows that Australian Indigenous children participating in sport did better with numbers.
In a study that is the first of its kind, a research team led by Dr Dorothea Dumuid of the University of South Australia found that participation in organised sport was associated with higher academic performance in numeracy among Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school-aged children.
The paper was co-authored by Professor John Evans at UTS Sydney, Associate Professor Rachel Wilson at the University of Sydney, and Professor Timothy Olds at UniSA.
Children who participated in organised sports across four consecutive years achieved higher numeracy scores than those who did less organised sports.
“While studies have previously looked at the relationship between organised sports and academic outcomes for children, this is the first study to explore this relationship among Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and confirm it as a positive one” said Dr Dumuid.
“Playing sport is beneficial because it requires cognitive effort; children learn to work within rules, to devise strategies for success and how to focus their attention” said Dr Dumuid.
“Children learn teamwork, self-discipline and negotiation skills. They develop a sense of belonging and learn the etiquette of a social system outside of their everyday home and school environments. Participation in organised sports may also aid academic performance by reducing time spent in less beneficial activities.”
Belonging to a sporting club, Dr Dumuid also noted, may be a point of difference for Indigenous children in rural and remote communities, where opportunities for social interaction structured activities outside of school can be limited.
The study is part of a larger project known as the Foundation of Sport in Indigenous Communities that examined the place of sport in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The data for this study were taken from the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC, also known as Footprints in Time) that is also part of this larger project.
The study used data from 303 LSIC students who completed the sports and mathematics aspect of the research, and 277 students in the sports and literacy section of it.
For the students who participated in organised sports, improvements in literacy were not statistically significant.
“The association between sport and academic performance raises questions about how sport is considered within the broader policy contexts aimed at closing the education gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities” the researchers said.
They recommended that future research explore whether the kind of sport a child plays (team or individual, indoor or outdoor, active or inactive) matters to academic performance.
Dorothea Dumuid, Rachel Wilson, Timothy Olds, John Robert Evans. (2020). ‘Sport and academic performance in Australian Indigenous children’. Australian Journal of Education.