Cultural Activities Get Kids More Motivated to Continue Education, Says New Research

Posted By Eliana Osborn on May 16, 2016 at 2:03 pm
Cultural Activities Get Kids More Motivated to Continue Education, Says New Research

Cram schools, Saturday schools, after-school tutoring—all these extra academic activities popular in Asian countries have Western parents wondering if their students need to add them in to stay competitive. After all, higher education is more global than ever and each family wants success for their child.

However, a recent study published in the March issue of Journal of Youth Studies may cause many parents to question the value of this approach. This research shows that teens who do cultural activities with their parents are the most likely to aspire to continue education, whether that means earning a high school diploma, or GCSE for students in the United Kingdom, or pursuing higher education. They are more inclined than those attending extra study activities or after school events.

University of Warwick’s Dr. Dimitra Hartas looked at data on nearly 11,000 teens to see what behaviors increased the likelihood of them continuing their education after age 16. In the United Kingdom, that’s the transition from required schooling to optional General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), which is roughly the equivalent of a high school diploma in the US.

Cultural capital building activities include going to concerts, galleries, or museums. Adolescents not doing these things are 14-20% less likely to consider additional education important. Abby Tippetts, a high school music educator in Utah, explains why attending cultural events is important for teens and their families. “The arts are what make us human. They help us contemplate our lives and connect us to people with other experiences or from different times. I think about art and music from the past as almost a time machine to transport us to the past in ways that help us to know people from the past more than just knowing ‘about’ them. The same goes for reading books or going to an art show.”

A few factors correlate with higher percentages of teens considering more learning. Girls, in general, were more aspirational than boys, particularly younger ones. Youth who feel confident in problem solving are 30% more likely to strive for GCSE scores, and those with a more positive sense of well-being are also more inclined.

According to the study, “filial dynamics such as emotional closeness to parents and cultural capital (e.g. participating in cultural events, discussing books) were better predictors of 10–15-year-olds’ aspirations than were more school-driven parent–child interactions (e.g. homework, extra-curricular activities).”

Dr. Hartas says there’s a lot for parents to take away from her research. “Parents do not need to approach family interactions as an extension of the school day. Tutoring and math clubs are not the only ways of supporting children to develop intellectual interests – learning and expanding young minds can take other forms. Children should be allowed to experiment through trial and error with ideas and issues that are not necessarily school driven. Learning should not be just a response to school demands but something larger than this. We should question the current obsession with approaching learning instrumentally, as a way of getting good grades, passing exams, getting a job, etc.”

As far as institutions, Dr. Hartas wants them to realize that most families have aspirations for higher education. “The problem is not lack of ambition but that the structural constraints and limited educational opportunities that young people who live in poverty have to ensure that their aspirations will translate into viable futures.”

“University admission departments should engage more with questions of disadvantage and the limits of individual parents and families. Young people require support to effectively determine their situation and make appropriate decisions regarding their future,” Hartas explains. “With this in mind, universities’ outreach programs should include more tangible measures of support (bursaries, grants, funded places in summer schools and apprenticeships) to account for the influences of disadvantage and limited opportunities on young people’s aspirations.”

How youth use their time deeply impacts their perception about their educational future. This research shows families and communities can focus more on cultural content instead of frenzied academics, perhaps building more well-rounded teens.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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