The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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All they want is everything
- Campus carnival: Life at school begins where the syllabus ends

Exams over, it’s time for Neha Jajodia to drop the pen and pick up the guitar. The Mahadevi Birla Girls Higher Secondary School Class X topper is busy making music with seven other members of Dollfinz, the school band. It’s the time to disco…

Yashvardhan Agarwal tightens the belt on his spotless white taekwondo uniform, and proceeds to warm up. The Class V Heritage School student has gold and silver medals under his martial-arts belt and even qualified for the world championships in Malaysia. He also studies…

Neha and Yash are the rule, not the exception. Going by the book, academics must still reign supreme, but it’s most definitely no longer the only reason for going to school.

Mahadevi Birla has one day a week each for a period of tennis, badminton, swimming and even skating, all on campus. And at Heritage, pottery, mime, kick-boxing and art — with workshops on stained glass painting and murals thrown in — top the co-curricular activities.

Check with any principal of any school and be told that the line between co-curricular and extra-curricular has thinned to the point of invisibility. “It’s all the same now,” says Reeta Chatterjee, principal of Apeejay School Park Street. “There’s no difference between the two,” adds Devi Kar, principal of Modern High.

Schools with just one PT (physical training) period a week and the odd quiz contest as co-curricular activity will now find easy entry into Jurassic Park.

Now, schools boast of an array of sporting activities and mind-games, a range of social and community service rituals.

And yet, for the students — and their parents, too — it’s not enough. At a recent parent-school interaction in Don Bosco Park Circus — which has nine clubs, a bi-monthly newsletter of, by and for the boys and round-the-year sporting action — the common cry from parents was “we want more”.

Don Bosco vice-principal Father John Plathottam says: “This year, one PT period a week has been made mandatory for every class, and for Classes IX to XII, it is a must to be part of a club for SUPW (socially useful productive work).” The rest (read: fest and football), the boys do anyway. Not far from Darga Road, Modern High, too, has decided to “strongly encourage” club participation.

For mind and muscle

On campus then, it’s the age of the all-rounder.

Picture this: a full-fledged gym where one student works up a sweat on the treadmill while another uses the weights. No private gym this, it’s a new set-up in La Martiniere for Boys, inaugurated this week. The Rawdon Street school intends to offer gym classes once a week, as a stress-buster and health facility.

Or this: A basic office management class is in progress at GD Birla Centre for Education. The teacher explains the finer points of letter-writing, filing, indexing and handling of correspondence — in short, everything that makes up a secretarial course. This is an optional subject for students from Class IX to XII. “Girls these days take their careers seriously. So, we try to teach them different kinds of skills necessary to find jobs,” says principal Mitra Sinha Roy.

In school, unusual is now usual. Girls can be found hard at work with spade not set square, once a week, during gardening class at GD Birla, which also boasts a national level girls’ baseball team.

For mind over muscle, La Martiniere for Boys has a readers’ club (author Amit Chaudhuri was the guest of honour last month) and at Don Bosco the leadership training club is a big draw.

Classes at Modern High give over half an hour early on Fridays to allow for extra-curricular activities, and there’s a special school bus for students who stay on late. Waiting in the wings is a gym and a large music group.

“Extra-curriculars ensure all-round development of the children, physical and mental. They bring out hidden talents, provide opportunities to mix with others socially and increase confidence and knowledge,” feels Rashi Narula, principal, Mahadevi Birla. “Besides, healthy competition is good, and it gives that added incentive to the kids.”

The annual fests, too, are as much work as play. With big budgets, corporate sponsorships, billboard ads and high-profile celebrities and performers, it’s the grooming ground for managers.

“It gives a lot of scope to the students to think for themselves. We just oversee the whole thing, but they do the planning, fund-raising and organising. I don’t like the amount of money involved, but that’s inevitable. They know how to handle it and they do their own accounts,” says Richard Flynn, principal of La Martiniere for Boys.

24x7, curricular and extra

But how does our all-rounder balance books and all else' Effective time management is the key, feels Flynn. But at what cost' Madhumita Das, who just passed out of Class XII from St Thomas Girls’, provides an insight: “I had to sacrifice a lot — I had no time to laze around at home, watch TV or even sometimes spend time with family.”

Madhumita was into Interact, quizzing, debating, acting, SPICMACAY and reporting for TTIS, but never took a day’s private tuition all through school. “Initially, my parents used to shout at me… But then I got 87 per cent in my Class X boards, and they didn’t have much to say.” She scored a 93 per cent in ISC 2004.

“I never felt pressured, because my parents were always very supportive,” says Ankita Sancheti, a star athlete of Modern High, who gave her Class XII boards this year. “I had to make a timetable, and juggle my time. Early morning was study time, except when I went rowing. Extra-curriculars widen perspective and help develop a well-rounded personality. Plus, I had to apply to the US and all this is a huge help,” smiles the Olympic torchbearer.

It looks good on the CV is often the reason for the youngsters to do it all at once. “My son gets up at 7 every morning, and goes to sleep around 2 am. I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it,” sighs Suvrasree Shirodkar, mother of Sangeet.

The Class XII student of Apeejay School Park Street is into Interact, is the South Asian youth representative of ECPAT International and a TTIS tiger reporter. Sangeet is currently in the UK as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Scholarship Scheme, less than a month after returning from Delhi having carried the Olympic torch.

Educationist Barry O’Brien has a word of caution: “The stress on extracurricular activities has increased a lot, but there needs to be a balance. Let these kids just experience the joys of growing up.”

But if growing up involves games and gardening, singing and social work, modelling and mock parliament, taekwondo and textbooks — so be it.


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