eBASE, effective basic services:Physical Activity Local Summary

Physical Activity Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of sports participation on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of physical activity on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of sports participation on educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa. The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers, as well as for parents who may be thinking of better ways to improve the educational attainment of their children.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of Strand

Physical activity refers to interventions that engage pupils in sports as a means of increasing educational engagement and attainment, either through organised after school activities or a programme organised by a local sporting club or association. Sporting activities are sometimes used to encourage young people to engage in additional learning activities, such as football training at a local football club combined with study skills, ICT, literacy, or mathematics lessons (Higgins et al., 2016).

Why is this strand important

Sports participation and extracurricular activities are part of school programs in most schools in SSA, and schools have made huge investments in constructing sporting infrastructures and in maintaining them. However, there is a widely held belief that these activities are geared towards improving the socialization of students and also to maintain fitness. Given that schools are already doing a lot with regards to sports participation and extracurricular activities, it is necessary to summarize the available evidence on how these activities can improve on student’s academic outcomes.

Summary of the research in Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite huge investments made by schools (both public and private schools) in developing sporting infrastructure in schools and extracurricular activities, the effects of these actions on students’ academic attainment has rarely been questioned within the SSA context.

Using a sample of 200 students from four randomly selected schools across Lagos state, (Adeyemo, 2010) sought to determine the extent of the relationship between student’s participation in school based extra-curricular activities and their achievement in physics. Findings showed an average positive effect on student participation in extracurricular activities on their achievement in physics.

A quasi-experimental study aimed at determining the impact of physical fitness activities on students’ basic science achievement, six junior secondary schools and a total of 125 students in the Ibadan metropolis of Oyo State, Nigeria were selected. Using a pre and posttest, students who were exposed to physical fitness activities obtained higher achievement scores in basic science than their peers in the control group (OGUNLEYE & Ojo, 2019). Dipale (2010) however did not find any significant relationship between sports participation and academic performance among grade 10 and 11 learners in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District of South Africa. Self-esteem was reported as a moderating variable that could significantly influence academic performance, with the author suggesting that sports participation could have positive value on self-esteem hence, academic performance of learners (Dipale, 2010).

Through qualitative research exploring the incorporation of the indigenous game of morabaraba in the learning of mathematics for students in South Africa, Nkopodi & Mosimege (2009) found out that morabaraba was able to stimulate a great deal of thinking among students, highlighting an opportunity for educators to incorporate and exemplify mathematical concepts such as geometric shapes, ratio and proportion, symmetry, logical reasoning, and counting, that are part of the game being used’.

In trying to explore educators’ perception on the influence of students’ participation in co-curricular activities on their academic performance in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Kariyana et al (2012) found out that most educators believed that participation in co-curricular activities helped improved the students’ confidence which was vital in their academic pursuit.

Looking at the effects of extracurricular activities on discipline in 12 years of basic education in the Gasabo district of Rwanda, Bonaventure & Claire (2020) observed a positive impact of extracurricular activities on students’ discipline, with the author suggesting that better discipline could impact positively on other academic outcomes


Evidence on sports participation on students’ outcomes has rarely been investigated in SSA, despite its potential of improving student outcomes as highlighted in the global evidence. A study in Lagos, Nigeria found a positive effect of extracurricular activities on student’s achievement in physics and basic sciences.

Researchers in South Africa have reported that educators held a perception that co-curricular activities help improve a student’s confidence which is crucial for other academic outcomes, and also the fact that the use of local indigenous games in school can improve the learning of mathematics.

To date, there is a lack of quality research on sports participation in schools in SSA, even though a good number of these schools are equipped with some sporting facilities and incorporate sports and other extracurricular activities within the school curriculum. More research is therefore needed to build on the evidence on sports participation within the region.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

The evidence of sports participation on educational outcomes in SSA region suggests positive outcomes. However, it is limited. More studies as well as a synthesized review of available evidence are recommended.

Implementing sports participations is likely to be of moderate cost.

Search Terms

Sports participation, athletic participation, exercise participation, games participation, frolic participation, dalliance participation, extracurricular activities, extracurricular programs, school club, sports/​athletic participation, out of school activities, non-academic school activities, leisure/​recreation activities.

Databases Searched

EBSCO (eBooks, ERIC, Education Abstract, Education Administration Abstract)

Global Partnership for Education

Campbell Collaboration


Taylor and Francis

Google Scholar

Hand search


Adeyemo, S. A. (2010). The relationship between students participation in school based extracurricular activities and their achievement in physics. International Journal of Science and Technology Education Research, 1(6), 111 – 117.

Bonaventure, N., & Claire, M. M. (2020). Influence of Extracurricular Activities on Students’ Discipline in Twelve Years Basic Education in Rwanda. Journal of Education, 3(4), 37 – 47.

Dipale, F. M. (2010). The relationship between participation in sport and academic achievement in grade 10 and 11 learners in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District [PhD Thesis]. North-West University.

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Villanueva-Aguilera, A. B., Coleman, R., Henderson, P., Major, L. E., Coe, R., & Mason, D. (2016). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

Kariyana, I., Maphosa, C., & Mapuranga, B. (2012). The Influence of Learners’ Participation in School Co-curricular Activities on Academic Performance: Assessment of Educators’ Perceptions. Journal of Social Sciences, 33(2), 137 – 146.

Nkopodi, N., & Mosimege, M. (2009). Incorporating the indigenous game of morabaraba in the learning of mathematics. South African Journal of Education, 29(3).

OGUNLEYE, B. O., & Ojo, O. R. (2019). Impact of physical fitness activities on students’ Basic Science achievement in selected Nigerian secondary schools.