Need that `extra’ in education

How many of you have felt exhausted at times staring at the crawling letters in textbooks? How many of you have been enraged by the constant nagging of your parents to show the best in you and have thought of telling them, ‘mom, dad, take a chill pill’? These are secret thoughts and you dare not reveal them but trust the wise owl, it is natural to feel that way.
The regimented academic sessions in school can be really hectic and monotonous. Adding to it is parents’ expectations which never cease to grow. Children rarely get the chance to breathe easy and enjoy growing up. But thanks to extracurricular activities in schools which give education a broader spectrum and offer students the required space to be themselves and learn lessons beyond books.
Arkidonlang Nongkhreh of Seven Set School stresses out when parents and teachers talk about examinations and career choices but he finds solace in arts, especially music, while sports keep him healthy. He is into multiple activities like dancing, singing, quizzing and science exhibitions.
As the name suggests, an extracurricular activity or extra academic activity is something that a school plans for its students outside the academic syllabus. This not only eases the pressure of syllabus but also helps in the holistic growth of students.

Extracurricular activities can be anything which give a student the opportunity to hone his or her creative skills or test social responsibilities and nous that bookish knowledge fails to provide.
Academicians in Shillong believe that such activities are important to make every student a better human being.
Brian Wallang, the principal of Kiddies Corner, an unconventional school that values students’ freedom of expression, says he encourages every child to take part in extracurricular activities.
The school has an array of activities beyond syllabus that caters to students of different temperament. There are cooking competitions, fashion and jewellery designing and spoken words, besides the usual sports and music.
Students are encouraged to design outfits and jewellery from scraps and “they do a fantastic job using wires and bottle caps”, says the proud principal. The cooking competition is held once a year and students are asked to make a three-course meal.
For those interested in poetry, ‘spoken words’ clears the creative block to let impromptu poems out in gusto. And those in love with rhythms of life get the chance to show their talent at ‘stomping’ where students make musical instruments with daily life objects like tin drums, plastic balls, buckets and brooms, to name a few.
“It is amazing to see how they turn simple objects like corrugated sheets and sand-filled balls into musical instruments. It is fun for them as well as it shows their creativity,” says Wallang.
The school will soon start organic gardening and each class will be divided into four groups for the activity, he informs.
St Mary’s Higher Secondary School has thought of introducing something new that no school in the city has done so far. Principal Sister Sonia Chacko wanted the school to have its own brass band and she put in all efforts to make it happen. The instruments for the band, which is yet to be named, were procured last December at a cost of over Rs 2 lakh. There are 50 students in the band that started with 30 participants, all belonging to classes VI-VIII.
“Members of the BSF band Umpling come to train our students thrice a week. We are hoping by June they will be ready,” said Dimanlang Kassar, who teaches Physics and also looks after the band.
That the students really have fun with the critical instruments after the gruelling classes was evident at a training session one afternoon. Playing trumpets and saxophones is no child’s play but the students looked comfortable with the instruments. Those on drums were already looking confident and ready for performance.
“Such activities are necessary in school. It is a break from studies. Also, students gain confidence to perform in front of a crowd. Our students are really enjoying being part of this brass band,” says Vice-Principal Sister Rugita Nongrum.
The school is also planning to start an orchestra band and has 70 students who are interested in it. It already has a choir. Besides, there are social work and spiritual activities like Jesus Youth, which is an International Catholic Movement.
“The Jesus Youth particularly helps students with their spiritual nourishments with the assistance of fathers and sisters,” says Kassar.
Sister Mercia D’souza, principal of Loreto Convent, emphasises the need for extracurricular activities in schools as “these encourage all-round development of a child and help in bringing out the hid
den talent of students who do not excel in academics”.
“A student who may not be a good writer can be a fantastic orator. Someone can be a good painter but need not necessarily be good academically. As teachers we get the opportunity to evaluate students and their talents through extracurricular activities. These inculcate (in students) values and qualities like team spirit,” Evarisha Syiem, principal of All Saints’ Higher Secondary School, agrees.
Both Loreto Convent and All Saints’ have a number of activities for students which not only nurture the creative side of children but also make them aware of social and environmental problems.
For instance, Loreto has outreach programmes where students are divided into groups for social work. All Saints’, which has uniformly distributed various activities in an academic session, has cleaning drives where students pick up the broom and dustpan. The school is planning to introduce gardening to make its students more interested in natural surroundings.
“As a parent I feel such activities are needed… a child who does not do household chores participates in cleaning drives and learns something about domestic work too, isn’t that nice,” Syiem smiles.
While most parents do not object to their children participating in such activities, some are reluctant to send children on Saturdays, says D’souza, adding that she is trying to convince parents to have Saturday classes for the benefit of students.
Amanda Mawlong, a student of Class X at Loreto Convent who is into sports and photography, says she feels the academic pressure almost every day. “My parents, however, do not put pressure on me. My extracurricular activities help me take a break from studies,” she asserts.
But for Daniel Shadap, another Class X student of Divine Saviour Higher Secondary School, studies do not make him feel the heat as much as his parents. A sports enthusiast, Shadap says, “My mother wants me to study 24×7 and it does take a toll on me. Taking part in sports helps me relax but again with lack of support from the school, it is difficult to participate in such activities.”
Father Rister Marngiang, principal of Divine Saviour, says the school has basketball and indoor games and it encourages students to take part. He too agrees that these activities are a must for healthy growth of children. The school also has sapling plantation drives.
Many schools, like Auxilium School, have different clubs which are tasked with various responsibilities. “We have around 11 clubs and through these, we are trying to explore the children and their talent. Only academic activity will not help a child,” asserts Sister Joplin Suchiang, principal of Auxilium School.
Most of the parents whom Sunday Shillong spoke to in the city and outside do not have any problem with extracurricular activities as “we feel sad for our children that they don’t get time to even play”. But a handful accorded utmost importance to curriculum saying extra academic activities can be a distraction.
EW Chyne, a parent whose daughter has already crossed the boundaries of school and college, does not agree with those parents. “The rigidity of the school curriculum has never allowed students to express themselves either creatively or otherwise. During our school days, there were limited options when it came to extracurricular activities but at least we got the time to play. I never wanted my daughter to feel breathless in school. So I would always ask her to participate in activities beyond studies. She is a successful professional now working abroad,” he says, adding that studying should be fun for children and not a burden on them.
The state board has introduced vocational courses but only 10 schools have the options, informs Wallang, who is taking up the issue with the board. “It is important that all schools have vocational courses. I have seen many of my students come out of their shell during extracurricular activities.”
Education should make children feel free and not shackled. One should remember, “The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create men who are capable of doing new things,” as child psychologist Jean Piaget would say.

~ Nabamita Mitra
(With inputs from Jeremy Majaw)