As schools reopen for the second half of the academic year, parents will once again be forced to make decisions about what extramural activities their children will take in Term 3. Be it horse riding, piano, rugby, tennis, gymnastics, squash or choir – their carefree winter holidays will soon become a distant memory.
“It’s time to rethink the way we plan our children’s diaries,” says Edublox Director of Educational programmes, Susan du Plessis. “Too many children are busy going from one afternoon activity to the next, every day. They hardly have enough time to enjoy unstructured play or complete their homework, let alone succeed academically.”
Parents take great pride in their children’s busy schedules without considering the effects, says du Plessis. “They sign their children up for private coaching sessions while ignoring the average school results on their children’s report cards. The likelihood of one’s child representing South Africa at the Olympics, for example, is very small, while educational success is an absolute requirement for their future.”
Without excellent school results, a child’s employment opportunities are severely limited. Of 100 learners who start school, only 50 will make it to Grade 12, 40 will pass, and only 12 will qualify for university.* Of those entering university only 15 percent will get a degree or diploma.** “One cannot emphasize enough the importance of academic success for a child’s future prospects,” says du Plessis.
Du Plessis said some parents also fill their children’s diaries excessively because they feel guilty that their child is not excelling in the classroom and their afternoon activities are a pleasant distraction. “There is a very long list of nice to have activities but if a child’s academic performance is of concern, this needs to be resolved first. If one doesn’t address foundational educational problems early on they only become more pronounced the longer they are ignored.” The cost of postponing learning support intervention is both financial and emotional if a child must repeat a grade.
While sporting activities are recommended for physical wellbeing, du Plessis said that a balance is required. “When planning after-school activities, parents need to act in the best interests of their child, even if this means temporarily withdrawing their child from compulsory school sport activities in favour of educational intervention support.”
“A coach is naturally interested in winning the next match and a teacher’s main concern is to ensure that a child passes the grade at the end of the year. Parents however have the responsibility to consider the long-term future for their child and that is to help them have as many future career choices as possible with excellent school results.”
Educational intervention programmes that help children improve academically need not be life-long. “Most children need only 240 hours, or ten 24-hour days to resolve their learning problems. If this time is split over an 18-month or two-year period, it is manageable but it requires a careful look from parents at priorities and what is important and urgent,” said du Plessis. She added that as little as 100 hours of extra educational support could also transform an average student from passing comfortably to scoring well above 80%.
Five practical steps for parents who want to prioritise their child’s academic success
- Review your child’s after-school schedule and prioritise what is urgent and important above what is a ‘nice to have.’
- Ensure your child has enough time for free play outdoors.
- Seek a successful learning intervention programme based on substantial proof of improved school results.
- Include your child in the process. Explain why an academic intervention programme will help them in the long term.
- Inform everyone including the class teacher, grandparents and sports coach exactly how you are prioritising your child’s academic success and ask them to support you. This is very important, especially if parents have divorced, that both agree to support this process.
- Reward and recognise your child’s efforts to improve academically.