Is playtime a luxury for children and youth?

by Ms. Salima Kerai-Sayani
2 mins read

Urban children often engage in tuition or schoolwork, while rural children spend more time with family

Imagine a perfect world, where every child can enjoy boundless playtime after school. What if children everywhere could freely engage in their favourite activities? What if they all had access to fun and educational programmes?

Studies show that post-school hours are crucial for a child’s growth and well-being. The time after school offers a spectrum of children’s activities, from risk-taking to skill-building activities. Research in developed countries into typical after-school activities like sports, arts, clubs or tutoring show that they enrich children’s lives, enhance their skills and expand their horizons. However, after-school time use among Pakistani children is less well understood.

A pioneering study, published in the Journal of Research of Adolescence by researchers from the Aga Khan University and the University of British Columbia in Canada, sought to address this knowledge gap. It revealed that Pakistani children predominantly engage in educational and religious activities during their after-school hours. By surveying the daily routines of Karachi’s youth, the study uncovered eight main after-school activities, listed by frequency: religious activities, schoolwork, screen time, assisting family members, family time, outdoor play, indoor leisure and socialising with friends. The research highlighted differences in routines based on urban-rural locations and gender.

Urban children often engage in tuition or schoolwork, while rural children spend more time with family. Peri-urban girls frequently assist their mothers with siblings and household chores, whereas boys help male family members. Urban children voice frustration over the tuition culture, while peri-urban children appreciate their unstructured schedules. Boys generally seek more opportunities for sports, and girls wish for more outdoor play. A recurring observation is the scarcity of play and leisure time.

In Karachi, playtime may be a luxury unattainable for many children. The city’s infrastructure, dominated by concrete and a lack of green space hinder outdoor activities. Organised sports and learning programmes are scarce and often only available to the affluent. High pollution levels and safety concerns further restrict outdoor time.

Safety is a particular concern for girls, who already face limited access to public spaces because of social norms and because they also bear more household responsibilities. Girls in the study also expressed practising their faith privately at home while boys enjoyed participation in communal religious activities. This space segregation deprives girls of community engagement opportunities that are vital for developing social and leadership skills. The absence of such experiences can leave them ill-prepared for future societal and professional demands.

Beyond formal education, informal learning which takes place in after-school settings plays a critical role in children’s holistic development. Play is essential for fostering self-confidence, creativity, social aptitude, cognitive growth and stress management. Structured activities like sports, music and school clubs offer supervised and beneficial engagement, while unstructured pursuits like arts, outdoor play and nature exploration promote problem-solving and life satisfaction. These positive characteristics and outcomes are the building blocks of Positive Youth Development.

To support Positive Youth Development in Pakistan, creating inclusive and safe environments for children’s out-of-school learning and play is crucial. Schools are natural hubs for extracurricular and sports programmes that develop essential life skills. Similarly, religious spaces can be leveraged to enhance children’s social and emotional growth. This comprehensive approach is key to nurturing well-rounded individuals and citizens for the future.

Acknowledgement: Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2024.

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