When a doctor tells a patient that they must take a particular medicine, at a particular strength for a certain number of days few if any patients disagree or question the details. Somehow, when it comes to educators making decisions about the length of the school day, responses tend to be quite different. The fact is that, amongst educators, the debate has been going on throughout many education systems around the world.
As highlighted in this article from Edweek, the healthiest way to approach the debate is from the perspective of what a school should aim to do/ achieve in a day/ week/ term/ year and then determine how best to do that, including how much time is required.
It’s a debate that’s rather like an onion. The more you explore it, the more factors come in to the equation, the more complex the dilemmas. For example, if a child is in a school where teaching standards are weak or poor, where the entire classroom time is devoted to rote learning, chalk and talk and copying from the board – the logic tells me the school day should be as short as possible, so that attempts can be made to make up for the lack of quality education in the rest of the child’s day. However, if the school day is a sophisticated, professionally shaped blend of curricular and co-curricular activities delivered through a rich variety of lesson styles and methods that develop and educate ‘the whole child’, then wouldn’t all parents want the school day to be as long as the educators felt it should be?
We must also take in to account the alternatives to being at school, whether that is in the remaining hours of a school day or on non-school days. In Delhi and Gurgaon we are seeing a higher proportion of professional working couples. I believe that their needs are best met by a longer school day. I am also very conscious that given the choice between a child spending some extra time in school or some hours of every day in the care of a semi-trained maid, they are better off with the trained educators.
There are arguably different issues at stake when looking at different age groups. However, whilst different timings for different ages may sometimes be best, it serves little purpose if it gives headaches with 2 or more siblings travelling home from school at different times. Also, different timings for different ages can create major logistical issues for school buses. Many bus routes would become unviable with small numbers of children or the costs would become prohibitively high. One ‘off the wall’ solution that might be worth experimenting with in some areas is for schools to share buses so that different aged children can be bused at different times.
Until a few years ago The Shri Ram School had a school day that was one hour longer than currently. Then, before I joined it was reduced, I understand as a result of pressures from some parents. Throughout my time as Director I have heard phrases such as ‘that would be great, but we don’t have time to do it’ way too often to be convinced that where we are now is right. Now, a cynic might say that we could keep the ‘core’ as it is, but then offer lots more ‘extras’ for those who want them at extra fee (thereby increasing school revenues). However, my response is that first and foremost we want to arrive at a situation where the ‘core’ delivered to each and every student for the existing fee represents a full and complete education of ‘the whole child’. Beyond that, yes, we can always add more optional extras for separate fees, but the high quality complete core must be sacrosanct.
I have heard that one of the arguments that was used for shortening the day was that many parents wished to send their children for private tuitions. Now, for some this might come from a belief that their wealth charges them with a responsibility to do something for their individual child that goes beyond what their peers are getting (the unfair advantage to succeed in an unfair world?) These same parents profess to be happy with what the school’s delivering, so it seems that the tutors are not meant to substitute for what happens in the school, but rather what the child should be doing outside school (for themselves). Even keeping aside all my feelings about tutors and the ‘tutoring game’ shared elsewhere on this blog, what gave these parents the right to force this reduction in the ‘core’ delivered by TSRS to trade off against the unique advantage they are trying to buy for their child outside at the expense of those either unwilling or unable to go along with that game?
We don’t tell the world; ‘Come and get 6 hours a day of TSRS education (to which add on whatever else you can afford elsewhere). We say, as dedicated educators: ‘Come and have your child educated in TSRS’ (lock stock and barrel, with nothing else required – by implication).
Finally, I go back to where I started in this piece. As a school, dedicated and committed to giving the highest standards of education, we have a duty to ensure that however long children are with us per day, per week, per term, per year we use that time professionally, judiciously and effectively to deliver the very highest standards of education and learning that we are capable of, towards the success and the best possible future life for every single child placed in our care.
In other words, it is ultimately our professional responsibility to work out the dose and the duration of treatment. However, acknowledging that others have their perspectives, I really would like to open up the issue for wider debate through this blog. Please share your thoughts and views.