The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The zing thing

Tania Bhattacharyya is over the moon. She has passed her ISC exams with flying colours and can now apply to her dream college — St Stephen’s in Delhi. You would think the former student of Modern High School for Girls, Calcutta, is the serious all-work-and-no-play kind, face forever buried in thick tomes. But nothing could be further from the truth: she is into a whole lot of things outside the world of text books.

So is Harshvardhan Chamria, who is far from being just a bookworm. Chamria is set to join Cornell University, US, to study computer engineering and telecommunications. An alumnus of Doon School, Dehra Dun, and La Martiniere Boys’ School, Calcutta, he scored 96 per cent (in science) in his board exams and 2370 out of a maximum of 2400 in this year’s SAT.

But being a topper is not enough to keep up in today’s rat race. You need that extra something to stand out in a crowd of super-achievers. Bhattacharyya is an ace rower while Chamria plays tennis and has represented the state at the national championships. He has also won numerous dance competitions as a lead dancer and choreographer and was an associate editor of Cosmos, Doon School’s monthly science magazine.

Today, high marks can get you only halfway up the career ladder. You also need to be the class drummer, a swimming champion, dancer, crooner, painter or whatever else you may fancy, apart from being a smooth talker. And youngsters, it seems, are revelling in this pressure cooker-like situation.

So what has brought about this drastic change in the mindset of parents and children' Atul Temurnikar, chairman, Global Indian International School, has an answer. “Studying is not enough today. The ‘X’ factor which recruiters look for can only be cultivated by a combination of the following values: academics, personality, cultural values and a deeper understanding of the global economy. And extracurricular activities help students acquire that winning attitude.”

Delhi-based career counsellor, Usha Albuquerque, agrees. “It is imperative to lay equal stress on extracurricular activities.

A winner all the way

Companies look for well-rounded personalities and hire candidates who demonstrate flexibility, adaptability (read: can work in a team and lead it) and superb interpersonal skills with the ability to articulate their views coherently. So, one sees an almost maniacal emphasis on extracurricular activities right from childhood,” she says.

This has come about simply because today the stress is on the group rather than on an individual. So it has become important to have man-management skills to climb the corporate ladder. And excelling in extracurricular activities, it is often argued, hones a person’s confidence and his or her communication skill.

The emphasis, clearly then, is on a pleasing personality. Says S. Chakravarthy, principal, La Martiniere for Boys, “Society needs a personality and not a nerd and that’s what we help mould through a well-rounded education.”

The balancing of academic achievements and extracurricular activities, however, depends on the level of study you are opting for. “There’s a lot of emphasis on non-academic activities in undergraduate studies,” says Sudarshan Saha, educational advising assistant, United States Educational Foundation in India, Calcutta. “In fact, securing a seat at a good university can at times depend on it.”

Most American youngsters have multiple interests to complement their studies and universities abroad want international students to measure up to the same standards. Cecil Anthony, chief mentor, NSHM Knowledge Campus, agrees. “Needs have changed and employers now look for soft skills rather than just technical qualities. They look for leadership qualities and assess if candidates would be potential assets for the firm.”
Does that mean students are under too much pressure' Chamria disagrees. “These are things I enjoy, and no one forced me to take them up.” Shail Jalan, a Class XII student of Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Calcutta, thinks that it’s no big deal to negotiate studies and extracurricular activities. “You need to manage your time — and multitasking, after all, has become a way of life.”

Indulging in extracurricular activities has other advantages, too. Says Samudra Gupta, a Class X student, “Playing the drums gives me a much-needed breather from studies. It helps me relax.” Principal Chakravarthy echoes the same sentiments. “Extracurricular activities provide a respite from the ‘killer syllabi’ that our kids have to follow. A healthy mix of studies and such activities has been a norm at boarding schools in India. Day schools are now waking up to that reality.”

But, as always, there are exceptions. For some quintessential toppers who dream of engineering and medical colleges, extracurricular activities are only a waste of time. Board topper Mohua Sen (name changed) has little time for fun and games. “I want to crack the IIT-JEE exam. The syllabus is killing and leaves me with no time for any other pursuit,” she says.

Well, to each his own.

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