There has been little research so far into Russian school students’ extracurricular activities, except a survey of 400 managers of institutions providing supplementary education, but the data seemed too limited for an assessment of students' preferences and the impact of after-school activities on their self-esteem and development. Daniil Alexandrov and Valeria Ivaniushina are the first Russian researchers to have conducted a comprehensive study of this subject.
The researchers surveyed school students involved in extracurricular activities and collected more than 6,000 questionnaires in four Russian regions, including St. Petersburg and Leningrad, Pskov, and Tomsk regions.
The respondents were ninth-graders living in communities of various sizes, from big cities (St. Petersburg) to small towns and villages. The students were asked to recall their experience of attending extracurricular clubs and classes in primary and secondary school, choosing from a list of 45 activities. The researchers examined the coverage and infrastructure of extracurricular activities, popular types of classes, and age groups most likely to engage in such activities. They also looked at reasons for non-participation in out-of-school activities and the links between extracurricular activities and students' self-esteem and satisfaction with school.
The study's findings are discussed in the paper 'Socialization Through Informal Education: Extracurricular Activities of Russian School Students', published in the HSE's Educational Studies Journal No. 3, 2014.
Alexandrov and Ivaniushina note that after-school clubs and classes are a cultural tradition dating back to the USSR when there was a well-developed system of extracurricular educational facilities for youth. While such pursuits are still popular today, the study found that some school students – 4% in big cities, 7% in medium-sized and small towns, and 15% in rural areas – do not engage in any extracurricular activities.
The study's authors emphasise the role of extracurricular activities in helping children develop competences which are not necessarily taught in the classroom. Particularly useful in this regard are structured, time-bound activities led by experienced mentors and targeting specific skills, such as teamwork, time management, goal-setting, independence, and communication.
In order to find out the reasons why some students are not involved in any after-school activities, the researchers included the question "Are there any [extracurricular] classes which you would like to attend but are not attending?" in their survey. Notably, 70% of the respondents answered 'yes', which indicates their interest in extracurricular activities, and even those who currently attend after-school classes say they would like to add other activities.
Those who did not engage in any extracurricular activities were asked to explain why and could choose one of three possible answers. Most often, respondents mentioned a lack of time (70% in big cities and 55-60% in small towns and villages). The authors assume that their lack of time may be due to progressively increasing student workloads by the ninth grade.
The second most common reason was a lack of infrastructure for extracurricular activities in the community, affecting about a quarter (25-28%) of respondents in cities and half of the respondents in rural areas, indicating a large unmet demand for such facilities.
Youth in big cities were more likely (22%) to mention that they could not afford classes – obviously, more fee-based activities are offered in urban areas.
The researchers categorised extracurricular activities into five broad groups, including sports (20 types), arts (9 types, such as music, dance, painting, etc.), science and technology (10 types), foreign languages, and other activities (sewing, macrame, etc.) The study found that students tend to be involved in more than one activity, averaging 1.5 to 2 per person per year, and that they switched to different activities from time to time.
Sports are the most popular extracurricular activity accounting for 57% of the total, followed by arts (music, singing, painting, and drama) practiced by 25% of the respondents, and foreign languages (9%).
Classes in science and technology are the least popular ones (just 6% of the respondents), and in this category, maths and computer clubs are more popular than others.
The researchers suggest that additional efforts may be necessary to make science and technology more popular with young people; indeed, the State Program for the Development of Education in 2013-2020 places a special emphasis on promoting research and design activities among children and youth.
The study found marked gender differences in the types of preferred activities. Both girls and boys are equally likely to practice swimming and foreign languages, but the situation is different with most other activities.
While girls tend to choose dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, and visual arts, boys often opt for football, martial arts, cycling, rollerblading, and skateboarding.
In elementary school, girls engage in more activities than boys; an average girl in grades three and four attends 2.5 after-school clubs, while the average for boys of the same age is less than two. However, by the seventh grade, both genders engage in approximately equal numbers of activities, averaging 2.45 for boys and 2.4 for girls, and later boys get ahead with 2.54 activities per boy and 2.33 per girl, and by the ninth grade, both genders decrease their involvement in extracurricular activities.
The researchers also found age-specific differences in preferred activities. Thus, younger students are more likely to attend singing, dancing, visual arts, gymnastics, swimming, and chess classes, but the popularity of these activities decreases among older children. In contrast, the popularity of team sports, such as football or basketball, and also cycling, rollerblading, and skateboarding, reaches a peak in grades 5 to 7, but drops by the ninth grade.
In contrast, activities such as fitness and aerobics for girls and bodybuilding and weightlifting for boys grow in popularity by the ninth grade, reflecting the teens’ emerging interest in body culture and health.
Involvement in extracurricular activities is much higher in big cities than in small towns and rural areas, and the offer of such activities is much wider in cities.
Schools, both general and specialist, e.g. offering additional classes in music, sports, or visual arts, are the main providers of extracurricular educational activities, attended by half of the respondents for general schools and around a third (30%) for specialist schools.
Notably, students are more likely to engage in team sports by attending a club at a general school, rather than one at a specialist 'sports' school.
The researchers compared the impact of structured vs. unstructured (self-directed) sports activities on students' self-esteem in general, physical, and academic terms. They used these types of self-esteem as dependent variables in constructing regression models, while the frequency of structured and unstructured activities served as independent variables.
As could be expected, the strongest connection was found between sports and physical self-esteem, with the effect of structured training much more pronounced (corresponding to the regression coefficient of 0.316, compared to just 0.092 for unstructured training).
"Sports are also significantly associated with high academic self-esteem – once again, the effect is stronger with structured training," the authors note. The regression coefficient of this association is 0.123 for structured and 0.040 for unstructured activities.
Likewise, general self-esteem is positively associated with structured sports activities, although the effect is rather weak (0.044).
The study also found a link between practicing sports and being satisfied with school. The researchers assume that this association will be stronger for students practicing sports in their own school rather than elsewhere.
Alexandrov and Ivaniushina conclude that structured sports activities – the most common type of extracurricular activities – not only contribute to better health, but also help youngsters develop positive attitudes towards school and learning.
Further studies into the effect of extracurricular activities on students' academic performance and social attitudes could inform evidence-based strategies for promoting extracurricular activities, including funding mechanisms to ensure equal access to such activities for youths from different backgrounds and locations.