The Length of a School Day

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.

Edweek Article on School Timings

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.

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Students and Sleep

Long term readers of my blog know that I have a particular interest in the issue of sleep.

My interest stems from a belief that for those of us in education, learning must always be of far greater interest than teaching. What I mean by this is that we have to be infinitely curious about all aspects of how people learn, the different ways that people learn, how learning is enhanced and how learning might be impaired.

To me, sleep is a vitally important ingredient in the whole issue. I believe there’s so much scientific evidence now of the negative impacts of inadequate sleep on children’s learning that it is wrong for educators to excuse themselves by suggesting that it’s ‘a family matter’ or ‘none of our business’. The plain fact is that diet, exercise and sleep play fundamental parts in a child’s ability to learn effectively. If we are to be the best educators we can be, then we have to take an interest in these issues. More, we need to play a part in educating both the child and the parent about what works, scientifically, and what might handicap learning. We want our children to become lifelong learners, capable without teacher and for this they need to understand key constituent parts of the process. They also need to know how to create the best possible climate for their own learning.

This was why I found the resource below especially worthwhile. It comes from the New York Times blogs and it’s a lesson plan that can be used to get children analyzing their own sleep habits, conjecturing about whether they need to change things and how they might do that. It is very neatly mapped to many different aspects of curriculum, beyond the health aspects to maths, life skills and language arts:

If any teachers take this material and use it with their class(es) after the start of term I would love to hear how it went, what the children really enjoyed, whether you stuck strictly to the proposals or how you might have differentiated the material to the needs of your own students.

NY Times Blog: Lesson Plan on Sleep

Is Cursive a 21st Century Skill

Here’s an interesting article reflecting the differing arguments in the US over whether schools should still spend time teaching cursive writing.

New York Times – The Case for Cursive

The arguments in favour that are given in the piece are varied. On the one hand someone is advocating cursive to develop fine motor skills, while another just feels that it’s an artistic pursuit that the children should experience. Against are all the arguments about computer use and the basic functional requirements of using writing to communicate.

Here in India there’s another factor. The article confirms my existing understanding that American schools that still teach cursive typically do so in Class III. However, here we teach it from Class I and I know of some schools that start earlier even than that.

I have to confess my own bias tends to be against cursive writing. However, I’m never quite sure to what extent that is driven by bad personal experiences with handwriting in primary school which have left me with handwriting that would certainly never win any prizes!

So, if we did away with cursive tomorrow I don’t think I’d be grieving. However, I know there are many who remain very attached to it and would not want to let it go. So, I really want to hear others’ perspectives.

Forgot to Mention – The End of the World!

While I was visiting America I spent an enjoyable weekend exploring San Francisco. Well, when I say enjoyable, I was having a great time until a respectable middle aged lady in the street handed me a leaflet informing me that the world is going to end.

Just to add to the feeling of anxiety I was offered these same leaflets on two other occasions. Now, I don’t want to get anyone worried, but the date given on all these leaflets was 21st May. Yes, I know – that’s Saturday and if they’re right we’ve all got barely 72 hours left!

Here’s the story from NBC News.

NBC News Story

As for me – out of sheer willful cussedness I’ve written a ‘To Do’ list for Sunday. I wish it could include the chance to go back and ask the nice lady in San Francisco how she and her friends could have got so confused..

Wonderful ICSE & ISC Results

The TSRS students of Classes X and XII have really exceeded themselves this year, and made us very proud indeed. The board results were really excellent, both in terms of the exceptional achievements of the individual toppers, but also the averages reflecting a great overall performance from our student body.

Whilst hailing their achievement and giving them 99% of the credit, I think it’s only fair if I hold back the other 1% for the teachers and parents who guided, mentored, taught and encouraged to provide the climate and environment within which these children could perform to such high levels.

So, now the school team has proved that it’s earned a summer break. We’ll pause a while and then get our thinking caps on for how we can raise the bar still further.

For now, all applause and recognition to the Shri Ramites, the mighty mighty Ramites …………

Aravali Results 2011

Moulsari ICSE & ISC Results 2010-11

Spring Break in Rishikesh

Evidence of just how busy things have been – I hadn’t had the chance to post these pictures from March. I decided that I deserved a little break in March, so decided to take Thomas for a bit of a ‘boys adventure’. So, we set out before dawn to reach Rishikesh by road.

The first couple of hours went pretty well, until an unfortunate ‘short cut’ proved to be a roller coaster, very rutted road. This proved too much for poor Thomas and we had quite a drama. Thankfully, he was then able to sleep for a couple of hours to get over the worst effects.

Thankfully, by the time we reached Haridwar, he was awake and feeling much better.

Rishikesh was beautiful and fascinating, whilst at the same time living up to every tourist book clichΓ© – the sadhus and the western hippies around in big numbers.

We arrived at Camp Panther of Snow Leopard just in time for lunch. The camp is beautiful, has a great chef and is the perfect base for rafting, chilling out and soaking up the stunning scenery. Ajit Bajaj (see last post – he’s now in a much colder place!!) was the perfect host. The camps are really professionally run, pay lots of careful attention to safety standards and provide a wonderful outdoor experience. This was our tent – the last one on the right:

Before we could think too much about it we were changed and on our way to the river for our first rafting experience. Being only 9 Thomas wasn’t allowed to do most of the bigger rapids. Within minutes of hitting the water any trepidation I might have had about how he would take to it were completely out of my mind. He was as comfortable with the water as I had always been as a boy. He requested to accompany Ajit in the kayak while the rest of us went in the raft. Our company on this and the two following days were the Nanda family. Sheer coincidence – it’s a small world – oldest daughter a TSRS alumni now studying at St Andrews, youngest daughter, Class X in TSRS, Phase III.

Well, we discovered that Thomas and I both love rafting – we’re sure to be back to Rishikesh soon. There are some more photos to come, and (I’m hoping) some video of us navigating the ‘Golf Course’ – one of the biggest rapids on this stretch of the river. When not rafting or kayaking, Thomas and I were both quite keen to do our share of body surfing.

Here’s a picture of Golf Course, from the road above:

Some of the time in camp people were getting very excited about a little matter of World Cup cricket matches. In between catching the games we sharpened up our card playing skills.

Skiing Across Greenland

Deeya Bajaj is a student of our school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Phase III campus. Deeya’s father, Ajit, has the rare distinction of having been to both the North and South poles (where he carried the flag of The Shri Ram School – see the photo and original flag on the wall in reception at the Vasant Vihar campus).

A couple of years ago Ajit and Deeya took a kayaking trip around the fjords of Greenland. Stunned by the beauty and also aware of the environmental significance, they have decided to go back there. At this moment they are two days in to a skiing expedition to cross Greenland – a distance of around 650km. Skiing for 8-10 hours a day the trip will take around 28 days.

Not content with just taking on such a brave and bold adventure, Deeya decided that she wanted to link it to drawing attention to issues related to education of the girl child in India. So, ‘Shri Karma’ was launched. A link is available on the school website providing more details, a link to the Facebook page where updates of Deeya’s progress will be posted regularly and a pledge that enables people to give monetary support towards a girls hostel at an orphanage for the children of leprosy victims:

School Website

Shri Karma Facebook Page

The Pledge

Our thoughts are 100% behind Ajit and Deeya. Join us in following their pursuit over the coming days.

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