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Are they worth it?

July 14, 2012

The two-month hiatus from academics during the summer vacation draws a mixed response. Those associated with the education sector relish a well-deserved break to rejuvenate their minds, and the focus of imparting learning skills tilts in the parents’ direction. This provokes an overwhelming feeling and most find it daunting to engage their children in mentally and physically stimulating activities. In such a scenario, sending kids to summer schools appears as a viable option.

Therein, children experience a varied set of challenges which enable them to gain maturity. It instils confidence to learn and excel at a craft, sport or even an academic subject. The current generation may be a maverick with cell phones, Xboxes and play stations, however, this hinders their social interacting skills. But at a summer camp, mingling with a diverse group allows them to establish camaraderie.

Huma endorses, “I was unaware that my 10-year-old daughter was being bullied at school. She became withdrawn and her grades nosedived. During the summers, a friend advised taking up sports. She joined one of the summer schools and there has been a transformation. Not only did it cultivate a love of tennis in her but she went to gain enough confidence to stand up for herself.

Recently, she even represented her school at a tournament. All kids deserve such an opportunity.”

The idea of enrolling children in prestigious summer schools developed in the early ’80s, but its sole beneficiaries were the elites.

However, business acumen of enterprising individuals allowed its effect to trickle down to the masses and now the idea stands firmly registered in people’s minds. Muslim Raza Syed is considered a pioneer figure in this sector, having opened doors to the one of its kind facility way back in 1985. “It was during my visit to the States in 1983 that I observed the constructive role that such extra-curricular institutes were playing in the psychosocial development of children.”

It took him two years of thorough planning and organisation to replicate that model locally and it got a tremendous response. However, its mass appeal soon paved the way for commercialism with the result that hordes of individuals now use it as a short cut to earn money.

As summer approaches, colourful advertisements start appearing in the media offering wide-ranging activities, a promise which fails to deliver in most cases. “I had enrolled my son for swimming classes at a well-known summer camp at an exorbitant price, however, when even after a month he hadn’t learnt anything and the organisers refused to return my money, I decided to discontinue,” comments Shehla.

Ironically, parents even force their wards to pursue a hobby with an exclusive name just to reflect their unique social standing. “I wish to end my guitar lessons but my mother keeps reminding me that she paid Rs7,500 for it,” complains Fatima. For others, joining a summer camp is a way of keeping children outdoors. “I do feel a pang of guilt whenever I drop my five-year-old son there, but as a working mother I have no choice.”

Schooling exposes a child to knowledge in a controlled environment, with syllabus and timetables playing pivotal roles in determining what he learns. At a summer school, however, the focus is not on rote learning but on character building and this diversity lures flocks of people to search for an option within their means. But, a factor that acts as a deterrent is the fee structure which ranges from Rs4,000 to Rs8,000 for one activity/subject, a steep figure for some families. Syed opines that private entrepreneurs with a profit-driven mindset have led to this malpractice. “We are yet to have a regulatory body that monitors the mechanism of summer schools. All that you need is a bit of finance and contacts; you do not even need a license to operate it.”

This is truly appalling as it poses serious risks for the children. A more proactive role from the government, with sincerity and commitment would not only streamline the affairs of this sector, but would also enrich the lives of our youth.