Extracurriculars drive academic success for regional students

Extracurricular activities may help young students in regional areas to close the gap with metropolitan schools, according to a new study from Flinders University and University of Tasmania.

On average, students in regional areas are ranked 5% lower than their city counterparts under the classification system that controls admissions to university, or ATAR.

But taking part in up to three different sporting, vocational, artistic, academic or service activities outside of the classroom overcame these differences by increasing students’ expectations for academic success.

Yet participation rates in out-of-school-hours activities tend to be lower in regional locations, a new study in Developmental Psychology shows.

“These results highlight that increasing access and support to participate in extracurricular activities in regional communities may contribute to reducing inequalities in educational outcomes,” says University of Tasmania lecturer in psychology and lead author Dr Alexander O’Donnell.

“While our data finds strong evidence that different extracurricular activities are beneficial, lack of funding and facilities for after-school activities leads to less engagement in these important activities than is needed to level out their school results.”

The study stems from an Australian Research Council project ‘Wellbeing in Adolescence’ led by Flinders University Professor Gerry Redmond, who highlights the need for policymakers, educators and parents to support the academic welfare of adolescents living in regional communities.

Using a sample of 1,477 adolescents who were part of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, a large Australian Government funded survey, the analysis found that the significant difference between adolescents in metropolitan and regional communities dissipated after extracurricular activity participation was accounted for.

“Overall, young people in country areas often have lower educational expectations which leads to a distinct disadvantage at the conclusion of high school,” says Professor Redmond, from the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University.

And while out-of-school activities could mitigate this disadvantage, many obstacles impede widespread participation in different types of activities in regional areas, the researchers say.

For example, while most young people played sport regardless of where they lived, students in regional areas were less likely to engage in academic, artistic and volunteering activities like drama and school clubs.

“Sporting clubs are the lifeblood of many country communities, and it is great to see how many young people are involved, but we also need to find new ways to make artistic, cultural and academic activities available, financially accessible and appealing to young people,” Dr O’Donnell adds.

The study, ‘Reducing Educational Disparities Between Australian Adolescents in Regional and Metropolitan Communities: The Compensatory Effects of Extracurricular Activities’, was published in Developmental Psychology.

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