Life Skills Go Beyond Exam Success08.12.2011 It is well known that good foreign universities pay a great deal of attention to a candidate’s extra-curricular achievements alongside their academic success when considering his or her application. Still, the importance of participation in such activities is being much argued about. Some people find it to be a waste of time. Others cannot imagine their schedule without some sport or discussion club. An article from the most recent special report from the Top Independent Schools of Financial Times helps us understand this question better.
When you send children to a private school, what are you paying for? Excellent exam results, of course, and hopefully a place for them at a good university. But parents would feel short-changed if schools did not go beyond that. The modern world is not looking for academics only. It needs well-rounded people with strong characters and with the ability to cope with setbacks and to lead a fulfilling life. Good private schools are certainly in the business of building character.
“It’s the most important thing we do”, says Helen Wright, head of St Mary’s Calne, a girl’s boarding school in Wiltshire, and president of the Girls’ Schools Association. “Yes, we develop their minds and make sure they pass their exams. But they’re not going to be happy, or successful, if they fail to develop as people”. Ms Wright, whose doctoral thesis was on “moral leadership in schools”, is hot on the subject of developing leadership among pupils. “It’s not about how to lead others, it’s about how you lead yourself”, she says.
British boarding schools provide plenty of opportunities to lead others and to work in teams. The boarding system allows students to take on responsibility from their first year. There is also a huge amount of volunteering. Music and sports are popular. The central message, says Ms Wright, is: “Hard work is good, but when you fail despite having tried hard, you have to pick yourself up and start again”.
Developing resourcefulness and resilience is also seen as crucial by David Levin, head of City of London, a boy’s day school, and current chairman of HMC, the association of leading boys’ and coeducational private schools: “co-curricular activities – sport, drama, music, volunteering – all strengthen academic achievement and boost ability to manage one’s time and to cope with setbacks”.
But do universities care if an applicant has captained the cricket XI, passed grade 8 flute, chaired the debating society and spent two hours a week visiting a care home, as long as he or she has two As and a B? The answer seems to vary from one university to the next. Top universities are mainly concerned with academic achievements and interest in the subject pupils have applied to study. But doing well in exams while taking part in other activities is still likely to work to an applicant’s advantage as it is a good indication they will stay the course.
“The notion that we are looking for renaissance men and women is simply not correct,” says Geoff Parkes, director of admissions for the University of Cambridge. “We are looking for motivation, commitment, drive and good time management,” he adds. “That’s where extra-curricular activities can be relevant”.
Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, says employers are also looking for drive and resilience combined with a “can-do attitude”, which is the most important quality of all. “Graduates have to have confidence in their own ability,” Mr Gilleard says. “Today, a degree is not enough; it’s all about skills and personal qualities.” In words that will be music to the heads of independent schools, he laments the narrow focus on exams and says the first job of all schools is to go beyond the syllabus and prepare pupils for life. There should be more focus on developing emotional intelligence and the transferrable skills of team working and communication, he says. Extra-curricular activities are “absolutely essential”, adds Mr Gilleard. “I’d say to any young person: join any societies going and take a position of responsibility. It’ll look good in your CV, but will also help you develop as a person. You may have a first at Oxford, but if you haven’t developed as a person you aren’t going to get a job.”
The importance and benefit from participation in extra-curricular activities has always been clear, and the words of highly respected people mentioned in the article prove that all skills gained due to these activities will help our children lead an interesting life and achieve great success in the future.
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