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How Extracurricular Clubs and School Progress Correlate

Academic progress and the leisure time of schoolchildren are strongly linked. High-achieving schoolchildren usually go to clubs and studios after classes, while lower achievers spend their free time in the street, HSE researchers have discovered.


Katerina PolivanovaDirector of the HSE Institute of Education Centre for Contemporary Childhood Research.
Elizaveta SivakResearch Fellow at the HSEInstitute of Education Centre for Contemporary Childhood Research.

Schoolchildren with low grades often spend their free time hanging out in the street, and their time after classes is not organized. High achievers’ free time looks differently. They go to clubs and studios and their schedules are strictly planned. These are the findings of research carried out by Katerina Polivanova, Elizaveta Sivak, and Mikhail Lebedev, deputy headmaster at School No 777 in Moscow.

The reasons mainly lie in the family background. The parents’ education level, cultural demands, and income affect their attitude to their children’s studies and extracurricular activities. Families with a high educational and cultural level understand that clubs make a good contribution to a child’s potential, and take their kids to childhood development centres. Wealthy parents also create the conditions for their children’s good education, since they are able to pay for extracurricular classes.

These two types of parents look at clubs and studios as a resource that helps with studies and is a way to improve the quality of the education their child receives. And it’s not a surprise that this once again provides evidence to the theorem that was proven half a century ago: children from better educated and wealthier families study better, the researchers say in their article ‘Children’s extracurricular activities’. The paper was published in the School Headmaster journal, No. 3, March 2016 (in Russian). These conclusions were confirmed by research carried out in several Moscow schools in 2016.

Children need to be occupied

The less free time the children have, the better, parents emphasized in the interviews. Their arguments were simple: if the child’s extracurricular time is strictly organized (the researchers call this an ‘organized’ or ‘structured’ leisure), they become more focused. This was one of the typical responses: ‘When a child knows that they have about an hour before the workout, and later they won’t have time to do their homework, they would do it fast, but well and still stay focused’. The parents also see extracurricular studies as a way to save their kids from bad influences. ‘If I let my child float freely today, I can’t be sure they’ll choose the right path’, another respondent noted.

The research demonstrated that children’s occupation during leisure time and their achievements at school are closely correlated. Children with high grades (average grades in half a year 4.5 – 5 on a 5-grade scale) said in the interviews that their after-school hours are strictly organized, they ‘have almost no free time’.

Low-achieving students (average grade in half a year lower than 4), on the contrary, were spending more time ‘hanging out’ (‘unorganized’ leisure). ‘According to our research, such children spend more time at remote sports grounds, playgrounds, stadiums and soccer fields, than the high-achieving ones’, Elizaveta Sivak clarified. On weekdays, children with lower grades spent more time without adults than their higher achieving classmates: on average, 2.5 hours and 1.6 h accordingly.

Club activities and their link to studies

The researchers compared school students with various grades by the number of clubs and studios they attend. As a result, they received some ‘convincing evidence on correlation between the number of extracurricular activities and academic progress’.

This correlation is especially evident between those children who attend no clubs at all, and those who have at least one type of extracurricular activities.

If a child attends at least one club, their average half-a-year grades are considerably higher. The average half-a-year grade among students who have nothing to do in their free time was 3.93. And it was 4.07 among those who attend at least one extracurricular club. The average grades of school children who attend two types of clubs is 4.14. By the way, the majority of school students attend one or two clubs (64% in total).

Clubs’ contribution to knowledge

Children attending extracurricular activities have richer life experiences, the experts say. Such students take part in a larger number of events and communicate with various people. This expands their outlook and enriches their school studies.

The role of development classes is especially important because the role of formal education, including the school one, is diminishing. The researchers explain this with the rapid increase in the volume of information that we are exposed to every day. ‘Our environment is expanding, we know more and face larger numbers of various events’, Polivanova, Sivak, and Lebedev wrote, ‘This decreases the role of formal education in our knowledge’.

In addition to that, schools are becoming more and more alienated from children. For contemporary students, school studies ‘are not related to their immediate tasks of growing’, the paper’s authors believe.

Families and neighbourhood impact the activities

The growing environment has become extremely heterogeneous, since families have very varied characteristics and opportunities, including the level of education, cultural demands, social status, and incomes.

School used to be the main source of knowledge for all children, independent of their family’s wealth. Now the number of such sources is growing, and the school contribution is falling. Parents with a high cultural level and income understand the importance of development classes for their children and try to invest effort, time, and money in it. Less educated and poorer families are less likely to have their children attend clubs and studios, due to various reasons. They have various arguments for that, from ‘the schedule isn’t convenient’, to ‘talent doesn’t need classes to develop’ (see also: Social Stratification Reproduced in Education).

Meanwhile, educational inequality may be reinforced by the urban environment and the children’s facilities infrastructure. Some neighbourhoods offer a good choice of clubs (in the cities they are usually in the centre). But some neighbourhoods have a poor infrastructure, which means that the schoolchildren living there have fewer opportunities to expand their horizons.

It’s good when parents are around

The better the academic progress, the more places the teenagers mentioned as attending together with adults, the researchers revealed. This means that the academic progress of the children also correlates with the amount of time they spend together with their parents.

In terms of studies, it’s also important where specifically the children go in their free time, to places like cinemas or cafes, or simply walking in the streets. The harder the teenagers study, the less ‘open-air’ and the more ‘indoor’ places they mention (malls, cinemas etc). The researchers believe the family background is also the main factor here. ‘High-achieving teenagers from wealthier families most probably have some pocket money, which they can spend in shops’, the authors wrote.

Schoolchildren with low grades don’t go to clubs not only because their families have less opportunities to pay for them. It’s probably also a matter of priorities as well. Such kids can choose ‘hanging out’ without a schedule from the very beginning.

At the same time, hanging out in the streets is different from visiting cafes or cinemas. These places have certain rules of behavior, which can’t be violated. Wandering the streets doesn’t have such limitations.

How to help children organize their leisure

Different scenarios are possible. Two of them have to do with development of extracurricular activities, and the other two with development of free clubs at school.

  • The urban environment must be child-friendly. It should ‘invite them to eventful leisure’.
  • Clubs and studios shouldn’t focus on achievements (there is enough of this at schools with their contests etc). Not all children attend clubs to get outstanding results. For many of them, it’s important to ‘taste’ various activities. And if the club teachers put pressure them, they’ll simply leave the club.
  • Schools must develop free additional programmes, as these can help improve academic progress.
  • Schools must support low-achieving children in their extracurricular activities. For example, they should be able to get help in choosing a club, or in celebrating their successes.

The article is based on a project carried out by the HSE Centre for Contemporary Childhood Research and supported by the Moscow City Department of Education. The project includes surveys among school children and their parents, as well as series of interviews with parents and students. 

February 13, 2017