The ‘Good’ College: How Extracurriculars Take a Backseat in the Spree of Excelling Academically

Posted on May 3, 2012 in Alternative Careers

By Girija Semuwal:

For most school students in India, college is just the next step in life. This is the life they’ve been told they have to prepare for. They’ve been told this over and over again, all these years, by everybody around them.

It begins by collecting degrees from renowned and reputed colleges located in metropolises. There is little time to take note of your own evolution as a person. As soon as you’re in the pursuit to settle in life continues in a straightforward fashion, or so it seems, which is probably why most people remark how “so many years have passed away so quickly!”

Given the general linearity of how things have to progress for students who’ve to reach a seemingly specific — seemingly because eventually it could be something totally different from expectations and anticipations — end, the choice of selecting a college rests chiefly on the academic reputation of colleges.

But as is the case in many colleges, students like to involve themselves more in extracurricular activities than spend their entire time listening to lectures in classrooms. Then, isn’t it surprising and ironical that what extracurricular activities a college offers on its plate does not feature when students make their decisions. Is it because of lack of awareness? This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Student societies in a college add to its overall appeal. They are vital constituents of the image formed in the mind of a prospective student of the college where he or she might be headed. Once the student is in, societies may become the mainstays of his or her campus life.

And rightly so, graduate Institutions ought to offer better ways to develop students and offer them a chance to grow in personality and not just as scholars. And a society seems a good way of learning and development by allowing participation and involvement to individuals on the basis of their interests and likings. They are environments where raw talents are showcased and nurtured, be it any field — music, dance, debating, theatre or fine art.

But ask students these two questions before and after joining college and expect to hear totally different answers — first, why they should go to college; and after they’ve spent maybe a semester, ask them why they go to college. The first is a should and the second is a would.

The answer to the first question would most probably revolve around “college is the stepping stone for a great career; for earning academic qualifications; for honours, distinctions and gold medals; for campus placements” or something similar. Why they really go to college, when asked the second time round, you’d find it is because of the variety of co-curricular activities — fests, workshops, seminars, exhibitions – that happen year-round, mostly facilitated by college societies.

In my reading, this variation, the disparity, between educational aspirations and campus realities, is because of the embedded value bias in the system of education. The cultural discourse on education is quite rigid.

Your career is your life. No compromises, no experimentations. But yes, once you make it, you can always explore, but “side-by-side”.

What happens in societies is great. But it’s best left at that because academic achievements would always come first in the job market. The implications are to be seen for themselves. So it’s no surprise that even if students take admission through extra-curricular activities (ECA) quota, they usually want the ‘top colleges’, and whether a college can be called ‘top’ is generally determined by academic or placements’ output.

It’s a funny algorithm to follow, but it’s borne the test-of-time and so for most students it’s the only route. We want to explore and experiment with ourselves but within boundaries of convention. Therein lays the whole story.