The “extra” in extracurricular activities

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education

It may be tempting for school systems that are trying to reduce expenses to trim the “extras” from their budgets, including school-sponsored extracurricular activities. But are these activities just a luxury that schools can no longer afford? The latest issue of PISA in Focus makes the case that the availability of extracurricular activities at school is positively related both to student performance and to students’ attitudes towards learning.

As part of the PISA 2006 survey, which focused on student performance in science, school principals were asked about the kinds of extracurricular activities they offered their students. On average across OECD countries, 89% of students attend schools whose principals reported that science-related field trips were commonly offered, 56% of students attend schools that hold science competitions, 48% of students are in schools that encourage involvement in extracurricular science projects, 42% are in schools that organise science fairs, and 41% are in schools that have science clubs.

While the types of science-related extracurricular activities vary across countries, their relationship with better student performance is consistent throughout. In 22 of 31 OECD countries and 14 of 17 partner countries and economies, students in schools that offer more science-related extracurricular activities tend to perform better in science than do students in schools that offer fewer such activities. And in 21 OECD countries and 12 partner countries and economies, this positive relationship holds even after accounting for students’ socio-economic background. However, in two countries, the relationship is very different:  in the United States, students in schools that offer fewer of these kinds of science-related activities tend to perform better in science, after accounting for students’ socio-economic backgrounds; while in Montenegro, the relationship is negative both before and after accounting for students’ backgrounds.

And there’s more at play than test scores: PISA also found a link between the availability of school-sponsored extracurricular activities and students’ belief in their ability to handle science-related tasks, known as self-efficacy, and their enjoyment of learning science. In 22 OECD countries, 7 partner countries and 1 partner economy, students in schools that offer more of these kinds of activities tend to have higher levels of self-efficacy in science; and in 20 OECD countries, 2 partner countries and 1 partner economy, they also enjoy learning science more. In no country or economy is there a negative relationship between science-related extracurricular activities and positive attitudes towards learning science.

These findings from PISA can’t determine conclusively whether being exposed to science-related extracurricular activities enhances students’ attitudes towards science or whether students with more positive attitudes towards science are attracted to schools that offer more of such activities; both could be true. But what these results do show is that these kinds of activities are positively related not only to student performance, but also to students’ attitudes towards learning and their belief in their own abilities. With that in mind, school leaders should carefully weigh the benefits of these “extras” against their cost when making tough budgetary decisions.

For more information:
on PISA:
PISA in Focus: Link latest issue “Are students more engaged when schools offer extracurricular activities?”
Photo credit: Teen science experiment / Shutterstock

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