Bindu Subramaniam is a singer, songwriter, Founding Director of SaPa in Schools, and Dean at SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts. She is passionate about using intercultural perspectives and trans disciplinary education to create a systemic change, and develop cultural democracy and 21st century skills in children. With that in mind, she co-founded the SaPa in Schools program with her brother Ambi Subramaniam in 2014.
Among the many challenges of virtual schooling are the loss of extracurricular and cocurricular activities among children. One of the recommendations of the National Education Policy 2020 was that there be no hard separation between curricular, extracurricular, and cocurricular activities. And while every educator and parent agrees that we should prioritise children’s holistic development, there have been many hurdles during the pandemic.
Children are attending approximately three hours of school a day, largely online. While things this year have been smoother compared to 2020, there are still administrative difficulties. Training educators to moderate virtual classrooms, upskilling everyone to make the most of technology, monitoring children’s safety online, managing concerns of screen time, eye strain and back issues – there’s a lot to think about. Educators and schools are making an admirable effort to make things easier on children, getting creative with gamified learning and building in components of mindfulness to combat uncertainty and isolation.
Still, extracurricular activities are unintentionally moved to the back burner, making way for science and math. And while it is no one’s fault (we’re all doing our very best, sometimes putting aside our own schedules to make the school day easier for children), it is important that we give it more attention.
While a lot of people see extracurricular activities, especially music, as a great way to boost a student’s resume and get into good colleges around the world, there are other reasons why we should integrate it in the classroom:
- Activities like music can build community: With online schooling, children are missing important aspects of socialising. Snack breaks, group projects, and play time are all crucial to community development. Introducing regular musical activities (adapted to the virtual classroom) gives students an opportunity to build their community, and bond together.
- The arts teach components of SEL: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is an important part of the curriculum. Children are dealing with major changes, and it’s important that we continue to focus on their emotional well-being. Arts education helps build the five pillars of SEL – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making – without being too heavy.
- We can use this time to teach the 4 Cs of 21st century learning: In 2018, Deloitte released an interesting report. It argued that, with automation becoming more sophisticated, it is hard to predict what the in-demand jobs of the future will be. That means, as educators, we’re not always sure what we are preparing children for.
Today, while we battle massive uncertainty around the world, this statement rings truer than ever. The landscape of learning, workplace culture, migration opportunities – we can’t confidently predict what any of these will look like even months from now, never mind the next 20 years.
But what we can say with certainty is this: there will always be a high demand for well-rounded, empathetic global citizens who are able to adapt to big changes easily. And that’s where the role of the arts comes in.
When structured well, extracurriculars can help integrate the four Cs of 21st century learning – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity – into a child’s life.
- Extracurriculars help them do better in school: Research suggests that the arts enhance academic performance everywhere. Closer to home, we’ve seen a sharp spike in attendance, reading ability, and overall confidence in our students at SaPa.
- They help children manage online fatigue: Most adults are struggling with online fatigue, so we can only imagine what it’s like for kids. It isn’t easy to focus for too long while staring at a screen, and it is especially hard to learn in isolation. Some of the reasons for online fatigue are: stress, excess screen time, and too much time spent sitting. We should build extracurriculars into the child’s day to help them manage anxiety, work on activities on and off screen, and spend some energy with simple activities.
- The arts bring joy: Art makes us happy – it’s as simple as that. It lights up every part of the brain and helps release dopamine – the feel-good chemical. It is a powerful way to keep kids calm and centred. And if we don’t focus on these things first, how can we expect students to be productive?
- Extracurricular activities encourage children to build new skills: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we should learn to be self-sufficient. Everyone, across all professions, has had to learn complementary skills to sustain their work throughout the day. Musicians have learnt audio and video editing. Event managers have learnt to manage virtual logistics. Graphic designers have learnt to manage social media growth and analytics.
Learning new skills is always a good quality. And extracurricular activities go a long way in encouraging children to grow – while having a great time.
It is, however, easier said than done to consistently work extracurricular activities like music into a child’s day while learning online. Here are two suggestions that might help educators and even parents:
- Space it out throughout the day: Teaching various elements of the arts in between subjects like math and science can make it easier to learn and absorb all classes better. It also breaks the monotony of screen time.
- Get creative with it: In the rush to give students a smooth and safe online learning environment, we’re losing some important things in translation. Extracurriculars are a good opportunity to add elements of physical movement, teach children the value of good communication, and encourage them to get as creative as they can.
As we continue to battle uncertainty and health concerns in waves, and keep going in and out of lockdown, it is clear that a hybrid model of education will work best in the months and years to come. It is important that we take a step back, take a look at the big picture of each child’s development, and make sure to structure the child’s day to include a healthy mix of academic learning and extracurriculars both online and offline.