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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3 Responses

  1. Dear Mark,

    I can’t agree more to what you say.

    Well, it’s a pity that everyone, irrespective of their education, experience or profession, thinks they have a right to influence the way academic institutions are run. And still worse is that, in our education field, we don’t have many people who are as committed and well-informed as you are. As a result, they bow down to pressures and make decisions which may have a detrimental effect on students’ overall development.

    I very strongly feel that just as we don’t argue or challenge or even doubt our family doctor, parents should try to understand why school/college authorities doing something or changing something.

    To my mind, ‘Parent-teacher Partnership Associations’ can play a vital role in this matter.

    Best wishes,
    Dharmendra.

  2. Dear Mark,

    I do agree with the thoughts raised by you and also with Dr. Sheth on his comment. I am a working mother too and appreciate this effort made by training institute directors to make time spent by kids more quality time in school than in care of domestic helps. However as a parent and with no training in school directives and methodologies of educating children, I get worried if long hours, especially keeping the extreme climatic and other conditions in Delhi and NCR in mind, is it going to be very tiring for the children? So if the longer hours in school are tailor-made to keep the pressure off the kids and they consider it as another home outside home, the atmosphere is not too overwhelming for them, I think it is a step worth taking forward.

    As for private tutions apart from school hours, I do not believe in this philosophy. Schools must help students and us parents understand and convince us the needlessness of these and how one can build on the strengths of a child by just focussing on him/her and not by running around to get them trained in everything possible.

    Regards,
    Nupur

  3. I have recently subscribed to your blog and it is a pleasure to read your thoughts and it convinces me that I have placed my child in the right care. Being a working mother, I absolutely agree that it is better for a child to spend time with qualified educators than with maids or even grandparents for that matter who definitely are there for their emotional needs and physical security but owing to their age and health there is not much mental stimulation that can be provided to children. From my own experience I feel my child is happier when he is meaningfully engaged even on a holiday than wastefully going through the day and being irritable.

    The long days actually also depend from child to child. Some are able to cope and some aren’t. My son who has just joined pravesh vatika this year wakes up at 6.30 in the morning to be able to get ready for the school bus and is back only at 3.00. p.m. after which he has lunch and just sleeps till almost 7.00. p.m -8.00 p.m. So, obviously children of his age may not be able to cope for longer hours but maybe the older kids can.

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