x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Common sense on school schedules

Everybody likes a holiday, but for the UAE's students, the school year is short enough without adding extra days off after Eid.

Can we blame this one on children? School pupils will always moan and complain, and perhaps even shed a tear or two, when their holidays are cut short. But then again, so do many of the rest of us.

There is a cross-cultural expectation in the region that an extra day or three can always be tacked onto a state holiday to round out the week. Parents often take this for granted and plan their holidays accordingly.

As The National reported last week, many UAE schools told families that the Eid Al Adha holiday would extend until November 12, giving pupils (and teachers, administrators and staff) nine days off. Eid is an important holiday for most families, but it is the cumulative effect of too many holidays that concerns us.

Shortly after the holiday was announced, the Ministry of Education stepped in saying schools had to reopen on Wednesday. Ali Mihad Al Suwaidi, the ministry's director general, said the decision is meant to curb the "culture of unnecessary holidays" to which parents have grown accustomed.

A more consistent approach to holidays across the school system gained attention two years ago when the summer break, coinciding with Ramadan, lasted 114 days. The normal break in many countries is about 75 days. Pupils might have fond memories of an extra long summer, but that length of break from school wreaks havoc on their learning habits (not to mention many parents' domestic harmony).

The phenomenon of "summer learning loss", whereby pupils lose the progress they made in the previous term, is well understood. Germany and Japan, which are often cited as educational models, are also recognised for their stricter school holiday regimen. We know that UAE pupils' standardised test scores are struggling, so there should be an argument for even more time in the classroom.

Schools are not only about learning a specific lesson or a certain fact; they must also teach structure and discipline, vital skills for any area of endeavour. Long and more frequent holidays might be tempting for schools, families and children, but only the last group can be excused for insisting on a longer break. And in most cases we hope the decision isn't in the hands of children.