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Are We Getting Excessive with our Extra-Curricular Obsession?

By Localiiz 27 November 2013
November 27th 2013 The claws are out! In her first guest blog on Localiiz, TigerMom.Com founder Beatrice Sonderhoff asks if Hong Kong’s obsession with extra-curricular activities is doing more harm than good. For many families, the end of the year is a hectic time. There are celebrations to prepare for, and decorations, special meals and gift giving to organise. There are also end-of-year assignments and exams, vacations and visitors to consider, while the dreaded school interviews perpetually loom. On top of all this, extra-curricular activities continue unabated. It is no doubt a very busy time of year, and all of the above (especially the vacation planning) are vitally important - except for extra-curricular activities!Hong Kong cartoonist Harry Harrison’s work below (published in the South China Morning Post, 25 November 2013) perfectly depicts the excesses of Hong Kong’s schooling environment.

Source: Harry Harrison, South China Morning Post

Even in comparatively ‘relaxed’ international schools, daily participation in extra-curricular activities has become the norm. And it is all outsourced, meaning less (or no) parental involvement. Don’t get me wrong, extra-curricular activities are a wonderful way for children to discover more about the world around them, and more about themselves: their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and aptitudes. There is nothing wrong with extra-curricular activities per se, and certainly service providers are filling a perceived need, and they are doing it exceptionally well. But it’s just gone a bit overboard in my opinion, possibly even leading to loss of creative independence and potential. Why? Three reasons: the overly structured activities, the lack of parental involvement, and the outsourced/paid providers. Let’s look at these three points in a bit more detail: 1.) Organised activity is led, hence, by definition, it cannot be started independently and creatively. I.e. instead of finding their own groups of neighbourhood children to play ball with, run races with, do crafts with or simply socialise with, children are being spoon-fed sport, arts and even socialisation. This setup is too contained to encourage creative independence. 2.) Usually the child is delivered to the activity by a guardian other than a parent. This guardian is seldom trusted to observe and constructively comment on the child’s activity, so the whole point of encouraging self-discovery and developing potential gets lost. 3.) The outsourced service providers (trainers, teachers, tutors etc.) may not have a personal incentive to develop each child beyond the acquisition of skills. I.e. the piano teacher will just teach piano, but will not necessarily advise on the innate ability of the child to play the piano – therefore a struggling child will continue to struggle and a ‘lazy’ child will not reach their potential. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but thinking back on my school days, I took virtually no extra-curricular activities, and certainly no outsourced ones. In primary school my free time was largely spent playing out with school or neighbourhood friends, siblings or the dogs. In high-school it was volleyball practice twice a week (during the competitive season only), drama practice for the big school play (not during volleyball season) and practicing for the regional speech contest (also not during volleyball). Oh, and of course self-sourced CAS* activities (for the IB Diploma). No tutoring and no paid activities outside of school. Except for socialising with friends on the extended commute home (everyone was independent and safe enough to commute to school unsupervised), that was about it. Was that too little extra-curricular activity? If I had done more, would I have excelled more? I don’t think so. Time to go back to my children’s schedules. Christmas and the new school term is coming: perhaps my gift will be that of one less extra-curricular activity, and one more hour left-alone or spent with me.

*CAS is short for Creativity, Action, Service. It is part of the IB Diploma program where students must find activities outside of school. In the early days CAS activities were identified and undertaken by the student on their own. For example, students would find a local blind school, elderly home, orphanage, refugee centre, etc. and organise their own volunteer services. Nowadays, and in Hong Kong, many schools arrange the activities for the students. aims to give Hong Kong parents a voice when it comes to their children’s education. Parents can search, review and talk about a range of relevant issues via the online database, school ratings and reviews, forums, resources and articles.

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