Choosing the Best CCA in Primary and Secondary School

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Should kids be strategic about their co-curricular activity (CCA) choices in Singapore schools, or should they simply use this opportunity to explore their interests?

It’s worth giving this question some thought, because CCAs require commitment, in terms of time and training fees. If you’re aiming for a Direct School Admissions or DSA offer, a child quitting a CCA might be disappointing. Moreover, for families with limited finances, the cost of non-subsidised training sessions can be a significant burden.

Below, we’ll offer some advice on CCA selection, drawing from our own experiences and what we’ve learned from other parents. It’s vital to discuss this with your child and importantly, to respect their choices. No matter which CCA your child picks, they will gain valuable skills, form new friendships, and create lasting school memories.

Choosing a CCA in Primary School

Although CCAs aren’t compulsory in primary school, children are encouraged to participate, and most do. Typically, children are invited to join a CCA from Primary 3 onwards, but this may differ by school.

If your child is already interested in an activity outside of school, they may naturally lean towards a similar CCA in school, and their prior experience may give them an edge to represent the school in competitions. 

Here’s something that ‘newbie’ parents may not know: parents looking to secure a secondary school placement through the DSA often identify the private trainers attached to schools, so that their children can learn with these trainers too. (Some parents begin this process in the preschool years.) Whether this works for your family depends on your child’s enthusiasm and the commitment both you and your child are willing to invest in this path. It’s crucial to balance ambition with your child’s well-being and genuine interest in the activity.

What if your child doesn’t have a clear interest? A practical approach is to expose them to a wide range of activities, especially while they are in Primary 1 or 2, and have more free time. For sports like badminton or table tennis, you can buy equipment from stores like Decathlon, and book facilities through ActiveSG or the People’s Association. If cost is a concern, consider borrowing or buying second-hand gear. For non-sport activities, many enrichment centres offer free or discounted trials. 

Having trouble narrowing down new activities to try? Many parents favour sports activities for enhancing fitness, reducing screen time, and instilling qualities like discipline, tenacity, and resilience. If cost is an issue, take a look at ActiveSG’s academies and clubs, as students have secured DSA offers through their developmental programmes like canoeing and basketball.

While you may hope that your child excels in their CCA for competition exposure or DSA offers, please remember that not every child will have the aptitude or desire to proceed along these paths. Some children may enjoy an activity without excelling, while others might find trials and competitions stressful. If you feel that tracking progression is essential, consider activities like music where annual exams measure progress. But do ensure your child is on board with these plans, to avoid turning their enrichment activity into a source of family tension. 

At the end of the day, let your child have the final say, and respect their decision. After all, their CCA experience may contribute to their development in ways you might not anticipate.

Choosing a CCA in Secondary School

The stakes are higher for CCA participation in secondary school, for two reasons. 

First, CCA participation is compulsory in secondary schools. Second, a stellar CCA record will help your teen earn up to two CCA ‘bonus’ points, which can be ‘deducted’ from one’s O-Level score to give a better overall score. These bonus points are important, because entry into junior colleges and polytechnic courses can be very competitive. Without the bonus points, your teen could narrowly miss out on qualifying for their preferred courses. (For details, read our guide or refer to the Ministry of Education’s CCA resources.)

Most teens will naturally continue with their CCA from primary school. However, some teens will need to make a fresh choice, either because their preferred CCA is not available at their secondary school, or because they are ready for change. Ambitious teens may have already identified their options in advance — these are usually the teens who hope to have school representation opportunities, either in performances or at competitions. If your family prefers a more laid back approach, you can ask your teen to shortlist activities from the school’s website. Use a simple programme like Excel or Google Sheets to create a list of pros and cons for each activity, before ranking them in order of preference.

Does your teen prefer a recreational CCA that doesn’t offer school representation chances? To secure two CCA points, they’ll need to find alternative paths. For example, they can participate in external competitions independently, representing their school with its approval. Another option is enrolling in the National Youth Achievement Award programme and completing the necessary activities to earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold awards, which are beneficial for CCA points calculation. For guidance, the school’s head of department for CCA is the best contact.

What about the teen who doesn’t like the sports or arts CCAs offered by their school? See if they will consider a uniformed group like the Boys’ or Girls’ Brigade. This is a Christian-based CCA, which provides experiences for teens in the areas of global awareness, community spirit, personal mastery, and leadership. Students generally get a chance to represent their school and take on a variety of leadership positions — both of which count towards securing CCA bonus points. There are also uniformed groups that are not affiliated with any religion, such as the National Cadet Corps and the National Police Cadet Corps.

But if your teen is struggling with academics or dealing with issues such as school refusal or disciplinary action, it’s best to let them decide on their CCA, which can provide some respite. Allowing them this choice can boost their confidence, offer a sense of control, and potentially ignite a passion that positively impacts other areas of their life. It’s important to view CCAs not just as achievements, but as opportunities for personal growth and stress relief, fostering a more balanced and fulfilling school experience.

Want to chat with parents about CCAs and other school issues? Start by browsing the conversations on the KiasuParents forum!