So the government is considering an extension of the school year. According to education minister, Deacon Ronald Thwaites, studies have shown that long holidays lead to children forgetting what they have learned in school. Education ministers of both political parties have expressed the view that the school year should be extended while in Government.
The education minister was also quoted as saying that all the players in the education sector would have an input before any final decision is made. About 10 years ago, the general manager of a large food processing company made the same suggestion. Was it out of concern for the children, part of a business plan, or both?
With the importance that we all place on education, some find it hard to oppose such a proposal. It is therefore not surprising that the president of the National Parent Teachers Association has come out in favour of the proposal. Indeed, parents have held this view 'from the time of Adam and Eve'.
But it is difficult for students to learn in weather-hot classrooms in the Jamaican summer time. And even if students do learn more if they spend longer hours and more days in school, extended hours are helpful only if the quality of the education is good. If not, it is simply more of the same as the president of the Jamaica Teachers Association has indicated.
The advantages of a school year extension to the students is that it would keep them out of mischief and it might play a role in cutting down teen-aged pregnancies as youthful idleness has led to teen-sex in the summer holidays for centuries. And of course there might be an advantage in terms of revision, which is the official point being advanced by the minister.
Still, revision might benefit some students, but not all. It would be of no benefit to youngsters who have just passed their GSAT and are going to a new school with a different curriculum. Nor would it benefit fifth formers who have just sat their CXC examinations and do not know their future until the results are known.
The advantages to the economy could be that the cash-strapped Jamaican Urban Transport Company (JUTC) might earn some more money as a way of getting out of the red in hard times. The advantages to the private sector, especially those in the food processing industry, would be several. Supplying school canteens with food is big business. Longer terms mean more sales for cooked lunches, patties, sodas, box juices, buns, cheese and whatever else is sold in school canteens across the country.
But the disadvantages to the students would be many. There are hundreds of thousands of poor students who have difficulty in paying school fees and finding bus fares and lunch money from Monday to Friday, in the school year at its present length, let alone if the school year is to be extended. Many students need summer jobs to pay for the following year.
If the summer holiday is reduced, how much time will there be for summer jobs? How much time will there be to buy school books for the upcoming year. Will students be forced to use valuable school time in September to seek new books to buy? The crowds of parents and children buying school books during the summer for the new school year can be very tedious.
Education ministers past and present have repeatedly given instructions that no child should to be turned out of school for not having paid school fees. However parents and caregivers and mentors are repeatedly asked by secondary and tertiary level students for lunch money and bus fares. How will they face the additional burden in these money-tight times? I suspect that whether or not the school year is extended, some students will work in the summer or fly to the USA, Canada or England to their parents even if they have to skip classes to do so.
I attended Jamaica College in the 1960s. It was geography class and our teacher was one of the few female teachers at JC then. Two weeks before the end of the Easter term, our teacher suddenly asked "when is end-of-term?". "Week after next Wednesday, Miss' came the reply. One boy asked a stupid question. 'Is end of term half-day, Miss?" to which the teacher replied "Are you kidding? Which teacher was going to stay?" And that was in the 1960s!
Is the proposed extension of the school year being organised to benefit the food industry sector in exchange for providing campaign financing for the political parties? After all, it is never too early to start stockpiling money for an election no matter how many years away it might be.
In the 1980s the teaching of history, social studies and even cultural identity awareness in high schools was downplayed in favour of business subjects. One consequence of this is the decline in the spirit of volunteerism and patriotism which has been replaced by unbridled greed and a quest for pursuing the dollar throughout the length and breadth of Jamaica. This is one major difference between students today and students of the 1960s and '70s.
Small wonder then that there is a shortage of volunteers to organise summer activities for students who do not need to work or return to their parents who are overseas trying to make ends meet. This is the best way to spend the holidays. Further, many have expressed the view that the churches and uniformed groups should play a greater role in shaping the young people. How can this be done if the summer holidays are shortened since one way to do this is through summer programmes of the churches and uniformed groups?
If the school year is to be extended for revision purposes , it should be done in this way. The only students who will be required to be in schools for revision purposes are those who are not involved in gainful summer activity or those who do not have to work to pay their school fees. But weighing all the factors, I am of the view that it is best to leave the length of the summer holidays just where it is.