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The Need For Extra Curricular, What Should I Do?

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Danny Harrington, Founder and Managing Director of ITS Education Asia, has some advice

There are so many questions around the extracurricular activities children should do – what? when? how much? level? and so on. The one thing we know for sure is that extra-curricular activities are inherently linked to student groups – you have to be “in” a curriculum in order to add to it. In this sense we can agree their key purpose is to broaden learning and experience beyond the academic.

At primary level, extra-curricular is a great opportunity to expose children to a wide range of activities, some of which they may choose to focus on in later in life. We all know the very best musicians and sports people start very, very young and that that fact is one of the pillars on which their proficiency is built. So, at this age, we need to mandate activities for our children. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have choice. There is no “best instrument” to learn: only a choice of instruments that a young child might enjoy and be capable of learning. But it’s up to us, as parents, to get our children engaged and provide options, all without forgetting the importance of real leisure time and free play. Balance is key.

In the middle years, parenting style will determine your approach. If you believe in continuing a strict schedule of mandated activity, you will probably also have clear ideas about how you define success and you will have a strong desire for your children to live in the same groove. If this is you, you can begin to ask the questions around how extra-curricular supports success and the focus will be on attaining measurable achievements which can go on a CV.

Parents with a looser style, perhaps because they prioritise teaching their children to make decisions and learn from mistakes, may now back off. But you do have to be careful about backing off too much. Middle-school aged children are unable to conceive of their future in the wider world. As parents we know at least more than them, if not what’s best. Encouragement, nudging and the odd putting your foot down can all help keep children involved in extra-curricular.

By the late teens, things are different. Young adults can and should be making their own decisions. With regard to extra-curricular, they know what they like and why they are undertaking their chosen activities. Levels of engagement vary but, these days, many late teens go above and beyond applying incredible energy to very worthy social and environmental causes.

Regardless of your parenting style, when it comes to using extra-curricular activities to boost university entry, broad trends have appeared over the last few years. Students aiming for top-ranked universities around the world are expected to have a wide range of extra-curricular and/ or to have achieved at a high level. The days of leading a school team or club being impressive are over for top universities. Representation needs to be at regional, national, or even global level. Top universities want over achievers, specialists and students with plenty of academic potential. If students have the time to do extra-curricular to a high level, it proves that their grades have been achieved with a modicum of ease. Top universities want an indication that secondary school is easy for their applicants.

At ITS Education Asia we implemented a social enterprise mentoring programme, called the Young Changemaker Incubator, three years ago. Participants get the chance to launch their own initiatives and these are registered with the UN thus achieving national and global status. Find out more by visiting the SDG Education section at www.itseducation.asia.

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