Teachers’ concerns about the possible negative effects of long summer vacations on student learning deserve to be fully explored because there is sufficient research to confirm that this is a problem that educators around the world are now grappling with.
As children, many of us tended to associate the school term with its tight timetables and rigid schedules as something akin to oppression, and the summer holidays were highly appreciated for the freedom and bliss they promised.
Of course, the world is a different place than when I was a child. It is now much more competitive and Caribbean students must contend with students from all corners of the earth as they try to carve out their niche in this global village.
Japan, for example, has lengthened its school year to 240 days in an apparent attempt to give its students better opportunities to close the achievement gap. Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, it tends to be less than 200 days.
Surprisingly, in the United States, it is 175 to 180 days. Harris Cooper, an expert in summer learning based at Duke University, has found that all students lose about a month of mathematical computation skills during the roughly three-month summer vacation, while students from low-income communities experience the equivalent of a three-month slide in reading comprehension. The loss is said to be cumulative, as it happens year after year.
Educators argue that continuous instructions are essential in schooling a student. They say because the rhythm of instruction is broken by the lazy, hazy days of summer, children tend to forget what they learn. So when they return to school in September, instead of moving to the next grade level, a great deal of time is spent rehashing last year’s material.
Those opposed to the idea of having any kind of structured summer learning may argue that children and teachers, too, need the break and ought not to be denied opportunities to have fun. And one must concede that playtime is an important aspect of the child’s development.
Since education is about stimulating the mind, there is no reason why summer holidays cannot be filled with opportunities that will keep the brain stimulated. For example, those who can afford to travel will certainly learn interesting things about history and culture when they visit a new country. Some children will also attend local camps where the activities are engaging and are likely to be a blend of fun and learning.
Many children from urban neighbourhoods may not get the opportunity to travel overseas. There is a danger that some of these children may drift into bad company, with so much time on hand and so little to do.
This is where the parents come into the picture. They should ensure that if children are unsupervised during the day, they have meaningful activities to fill the void. Point the children to the library, where a great deal of learning can be accessed free of charge. There are libraries in every parish and they often organise various activities to promote reading during the summer months.
Other options include visits to the zoo and botanical gardens, as well as summer camps. Some schools use the opportunity to offer remedial or accelerated programmes during the summer months. Students should take advantage of these.
Before teachers close their doors on the old school year, they would be doing a great service to their students if they were to assign them summer homework related to the next level in their education.
Some hard decisions need to be taken about summer learning loss if we are to make greater progress in our children’s educational achievements.
Reproduced from the Jamaica Gleaner