Why are Extracurricular Activities so important?
Hong Kong is known for a high-pressure and competitive education system. Parents and students often complain about long school hours, excessive homework, and highly stressful school environment.
One might ask, why does it all have to be so competitive? The answer lies in the fact that the majority of schools and colleges in and outside of Hong Kong consider great academic scores as one of the most crucial factors in admissions. And because of this, the teachers and parents have no choice but to keep pushing kids for higher grades and test scores.
Sadly, academically bright students are always more in number than what these prestigious schools/colleges can accommodate. In such scenarios, what differentiates a student’s application is the quality and the kind of extracurricular activity he/she pursues. Schools and colleges are little communities, looking to have a diversity of interests in their institutions, and hence, they are bound to lend some weightage to extracurricular activities.
However, it is important to note having kids invest time and energy in extracurricular activities to get admission to your first choice of school/college shouldn’t be the ‘only’ driving force. It has been observed that there are several other beneficial reasons (much more important ones, might we add) to go for activities that fall outside the scope of the regular school curriculum.
Let’s look at some of the reasons below:
Improves School Performance - There is enough research literature out there that indicates a direct correlation between extracurricular activities and improved academic performance or favourable attitudes towards school. For instance, per a study by the Texas A&M University, academic outcomes like reading, math achievement, and course grades were all found to be positively influenced by children who engage in extracurricular activities. Other research studies state that being part of activities that children are passionate about can increase their brain function, build stamina, and help them focus in face of intense difficulty. This surely gives them an advantage when it comes to preparing for an exam or learning a new subject/skill.
Uncovers the Hidden Talent - There is no denying that it is necessary for our children to gain result-oriented academic education. Academics alone, however, cannot recognise the latent talents of kids. When a child is exposed to various activities, it helps them explore a range of interests and unlock passions. There might be children, for example, whose parents are academic geniuses and have never had any training or interest in music. After having the kids attend a few music lessons, the parents might realise that their kids have the potential to become brilliant musicians.
Helps Learn Better Time Management - Kids who spend time on activities outside the curriculum develop crucial time management skills. By learning how to balance school life and after school piano lessons, for example, students will begin to juggle their time wisely and this skill will benefit them at all stages of life.
Enables Broader Perspectives - Joining different activities also helps broaden your kids’ world view. If they join an art club, for instance, they will probably start looking at the world through the eyes of a budding artist. They will notice how shadows are to be treated on paper, what all colour hues do a river have, how distance affects the degree of colour tones in nature. Similarly, if they volunteer in an old-age home, they will be much more compassionate and helpful for the elderly they may meet, say on streets or at supermarkets.
Provides a Breather - It is a pleasure for anyone to spend time on an activity they are passionate about. Your kids might look forward to finishing their school hours and savouring those ones to two hours of activities that truly enjoy (be it tennis, basketball, football, painting, drama, etc). It helps them break free from the monotonous nature of the day, take a refreshing break from studies, and really relish the time spent on doing things where their natural talents lie.
Improves Self-Esteem - Venturing into an activity which one really likes and is naturally good at, translates into a higher self-esteem. Let’s say your kid is great at expressing herself with clever words and fancy terms. The teacher encourages her to join the debate team. During the process, she realises how fun and exciting it is to prepare for the debates and how much she loves being part of it. Working hard to learn a new skill outside the confines of the “grade pressure” allows one to master the skill easily. In such scenarios, not only will the kids’ confidence in the debate/public speaking domain, but they may become more open to taking risks without worrying or fearing failure.
Helps Acquire Important Life-Skills - Dr. Lisa Lenhart, PhD, Child Psychologist, states that joining clubs or undertaking activities outside of curriculum can develop important life skills in students. Children learn how to participate in team settings, discover ways to function by subordinating their individual interests for the greater good and understand how to manage frustrations and tolerate them when the team loses. Such skills are beneficial for their overall life at large. Also, kids may pick up on how to accept constructive feedback, how to ask a follow-up question, improve their listening skills, and accept various points of view with respect and understanding. Participating in extracurricular activities can develop in kids a sense of “we” and us” rather than “I” or “me”.
Enhances Social Connections - If children are tasked to just bury their heads in books or iPads with the aim of finishing their homework, chances are they will not make an effort to go out and socialise with friends. Allowing your child to invest time in extracurricular can do wonders for his/her social well-being. Imagine your child working voluntarily in an Environmental NGO after school hours with some other friends. There’s a high probability that they will keep in touch for a long time because of like-minded interests.
Facilitates Cultural Integration - Hong Kong attracts many expats and international students every year. Through participating in extracurricular activities, local and expat kids can work on common-interest projects and develop greater respect, understanding, and acceptance for people from different cultural backgrounds.
In conclusion, yes extracurricular may provide the much-needed edge in your kids’ school and college applications, but what they truly offer is much more than just that. Such activities equip students with crucial life skills.
What is important, however, is to choose the activity/ activities wisely. Let your kids go for those activities that they truly care about. Parents may help them steer in the right direction but it will be counterproductive to force them into something they are not keen to pursue. Also, help your kids develop a reasoned passion. The admissions office wants to know not only what your children do with their spare time, but why they do what they do. They must have a firm reason for the choices they make, and these reasons cannot be simply “to get into a particular school or college”.
Have your children stick with one or two types of activities rather than joining and quitting one every other week. It’s ok to dabble in different activities in the beginning to ascertain their interests. But once they have a handle over their passions, let them stick with just a few.
Do let us know your thoughts on the subject. We would love to hear from you.
South China Morning Post and Whizpa will be organizing the Learning Festival 2020:
Date: October 24, 2020 (Saturday)
Time: 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Location: The Glass Pavilion, 3/F, KITEC, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay