Extra-Curricular Activities and Bangladesh admission system: what we are missing out

Written by: Adiba Tahsin

Extracurricular activities refer to the plethora of activities that are done outside of the cutthroat academic curriculum. Starting from gardening at home, singing and even filmmaking to winning gold medals in olympiads, anyone can do extracurriculars anytime. It also doesn’t have to be sponsored by institutions but anything done in one’s family or community.

Importance of Extracurricular activities: 

In general, involvement in Extracurricular activities helps build friendships and good networks. It exposes people to diverse cultures and makes them more tolerant towards variations within the society. 

Research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that participation in extracurricular activities have a positive correlation to the students’ attendance, GPA, test scores, and expected educational goals.

As extracurriculars are done outside of the classroom, it also builds time management skills. For instance, person A likes to debate. He has a tournament two days before his final examination. On the other hand, person B is not yet involved in any activities. In this scenario, person A is less likely to waste his time sitting idle. Person A is more likely to have a productive routine. Person A is more likely to acquire more knowledge on world issues than person B. When hired for a job, person A will have better communication skills and adapt better to the competitive environment, where person B might get a bit nervous. Person B is more likely to waste his time watching Netflix. Thus, extracurriculars boost analytical thinking, goal setting and have a greater sense of prioritizing work. 

Significance of ECAs in University application: In the USA or UK, it is almost impossible to get into any university without ECA for citizens and international students. Suppose someone wants to study physics in the UK. In that case, the universities will most likely want him to be a part of a physics club, take extra physics courses at college or volunteer in a physics laboratory. However, US universities prioritize ECAs even more. Leadership, Volunteering account for approximately thirty percent of the total application. The rest are based on academic performance, SAT scores, and recommendation letters. US universities allow students to have not only one specific major-based ECA but also other types of them. You are still welcome to study astrophysics if you have published a cookbook or love to do photography. US universities like to see longevity, passion for a particular type of activity. Crimson, an admissions support company specializing in increasing acceptance to highly regarded institutions, says extracurriculars are a critical part of a student’s university application. Involvement in clubs and more provides a clearer picture of who a student is outside of the classroom and offers an opportunity to showcase various skills and interests.

Universities in Canada might not provide financial aid to international students, but they do have some highly competitive scholarship programs like KMILOT and Lester B Pearson. For international students, UK universities like Oxford provide reach scholarships for having “super curriculars”- a term used to describe major-related Extracurricular. Again, a full-fledged profile, including strong ECAs, impressive grades, and a well-written essay, is required to get those scholarships.

Extracurriculars and Bangladeshi Students’ plight: Schools and Colleges in Bangladesh do not emphasize on having ECAs. Schools don’t have the incentive to support students when they try to open clubs. Even worse is when they demotivate students by saying ECAs will be a hindrance to their studies. For example, a cricket club needs adequate funding in order to hire a coach or register for tournaments and the school might be reluctant to invest into it. In Bangladesh, not only the teachers and parents but also, students tend to stop doing ECAs because they feel like it won’t be beneficial for them in the long run. However, it is not entirely the students’ fault to think that way. This is because all the Bangladeshi public universities like BUET, DU, JU, and even private universities like North south university, Brac University, East-West university never require ECAs in their admission process. It is solely based on a three-hour-long admission test whether you get in or not. The metric of intelligence the Bangladesh admission system has is quite unfair. Unfortunately, very little light is shed on the admission process by policy makers. 

Nonetheless, it could be argued that in Bangladesh, except for Dhaka and Chittagong, the schools do not also have the appropriate funding to support their students to run a club. The students coming from a village or less affluent families were never exposed to such ECA opportunities. The fact that they are going to school is a matter of great privilege to them. In this scenario, the Bangladesh admission system tries to establish a fair playing field by only focusing on academics. This is the reason why we might not see any reform in the education sector regarding the admission process any soon. It is also fuelled by the fact that most of the students are now struggling to have the basic education in the pandemic. Most of the policy reforms now are usually based on the grade 5,8 preliminary board examinations. Where admission tests, ssc, hsc and regular classes can’t be conducted because of COVID-19, incorporating ECAs into the curriculum is so far-fetched. 

The problem, however, remains. The biggest sufferers here are the students who want to pursue their undergraduate degrees overseas. For example, Student X comes from a middle-class background where his parents do not support studying abroad. He badly needs scholarships. At First, he was entirely unaware about financial aids. Now, he understands the importance of having some sort of extracurriculars. He attends webinars of universities and discovers that universities require fleshed-out, great essays filled with unique experiences of personal growth and struggles. In Common App ( admission portal of US), there is a separate section of reporting “activities.” Person X now starts to look for content writing or researching posts on Facebook Desperately. He decided to start playing cricket like he did when he was at school and eventually left it. But still, can his newly formed ECAs compete with thousands of internationals who have at least 2 years of experience? Won’t the admission officers assume that student X’s ECAs are temporary? 

What can be done: The choice of where someone wants to study is very subjective. Still, a general idea needs to be provided in every school about the pros of doing ECAs and how they can help future prospects. It is essential to educate children so that they are not entirely clueless about the admission process, unlike person X. On the other hand, even if a person has no plan on applying to universities abroad, being indulged in an Extracurricular activity will never go in vain.

Even if the institutions and parents cannot directly support their children in practicing extracurricular activities and even if the policy makers can’t bring a paradigm shift In admission system in a jiffy, children  should never be, at least,  discouraged from doing ECAs. 

About the Author: Adiba Tahsin has finished her Alevels this June 2021. She is currently leading the Safe Migration team at YPF.

Featured Image Courtesy: School Life – Aarth Universal School

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