The importance of life skills is often overlooked when concentrating on a schooling solely to lead to a university place. Private lessons versus extracurricular activities is a fine balance says Nadia Sawyer
Private lessons are the bane of every parent’s life. If you have ever had a child that has gone to a private secondary school then the chances are that in the year leading up to the entrance exams you have driven your offspring to lessons (and yourself mad in the process) to make sure that they are sufficiently prepared. There is no denying the initial need for these extra lessons, but, once the child has successfully gained entrance to the chosen school, should they not cease?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case and there are several reasons why parents may elect to continue with private lessons during their children’s secondary school years. The first may be that the child is just not as academically gifted as his or her classmates and having just scraped through the entrance exams could need continued support in one or more subjects so as not to struggle and under achieve. The second reason, and quite understandable in Cyprus where the main language is Greek, is to gain further help with the English vernacular. The third, and probably the main reason, is because the majority of parents want to ensure that their child achieves the highest grades possible to ensure they get offered a place at a reputable university, usually abroad.
But what is the reason for this? The fact is that a large majority of parents would prefer their children to become lawyers, doctors, accountants and engineers to ensure they have well paid, secure and (dare I even say it) prestigious jobs. After all, if you have worked your guts out to send your child to a private secondary school, don’t you deserve some pay back? But are you considering the long-term emotional and psychological effects this may have on the child? Perhaps your time and that of your child’s might be better invested in forsaking a few costly private lessons and in making better use of the facilities and activities offered by the school that you are already paying for? An art, a craft, a club, or some other extracurricular activity might assist your child in relieving stress, in becoming a more rounded individual or even in securing a job in the future.
Professor at the University of Nicosia Dr Marios Constantinou specialises in clinical pediatric neuropsychology and has this to say about the pervasive private lesson syndrome in the country. “It shouldn’t be happening… the school should be teaching them everything they need to know. Having a lot of things to do in a day and not doing any fun stuff creates a lot of stress in children”. And if they do not get any relief from the stress of academic work? “Then they don’t fully leave their childhood and adolescence,” states Constantinou. “And once you create stress in adolescence it is safe to assume that it could spill over into adulthood”.
Jenny Brown is a teacher and the mother of three children, all of whom have gone to private secondary schools. She is also an administrator and facilitator at Club Jubilee, an organisation than offers extracurricular activities in the afternoons in Nicosia and summer camps in Troodos. Brown also holds strong views on the over-emphasis on academic results at the expense of other areas of education such as sport, art, music, drama and dance. “The most important thing in any person’s life is social and working relationships with other people and you don’t learn those sitting at a desk. In no classroom of an academic subject can you learn the skills that you learn on a sports pitch, for example. Team play, leadership, good sportsmanship… these are all a massive part of success in life. So much of children’s time now is non-interactive so you have to get them in any situation where they are interacting, and it doesn’t have to be just sports. If they are engaging in art, for example, learning how to draw something, they are looking at it with a different eye and it gives them a different perspective on things. You can get all the qualifications in the world but you won’t succeed in life if you don’t have a rounded personality.
Life skills get you further than academic skills,” she says.
So what are future employers looking for, over and above academic qualifications? Most application forms will have a section to fill in called ‘other skills, interests or activities’ which help demonstrate to a human resources department a person’s achievement, commitment, communication, judgement, teamwork and leadership skills – elements that are vital to any successful business.
Fotis Pavlou is Head of Human Resources at a national bank and a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He agrees that you can get a sense of a person when you find out about their other interests. However, “the problem that I see nowadays is that not many young candidates have engagement with extracurricular activities,” he admits. Referring to a recent interview where he quizzed an applicant further about an interest that was detailed on his CV it became clear the person in question had been somewhat short with the truth. “Only the exceptions have a genuine extracurricular interest,” he reveals, “and this says something about their personality”. Pavlou cites another example where a candidate had detailed on his application that he was a black belt in a martial art and who came into the interview with such presence that, together with his academic qualifications, he was quite clearly “the total package”. Needless to say, he was immediately offered a job.
So perhaps parents might do well to consider that education is not just about the academic curriculum and private lessons. There is even a line in a Latin text book that states ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ which means ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. Ensuring that a child has both gives them a better chance of success – in all aspects of their life.