The Queensland Government recently informed school principals they will have the option to consult with their local communities about introducing more flexible class times and school days, leading to debate about the introduction of a four-day school week.
Generally, state schools hold classes between 9am-3pm from Monday to Friday. If schools want to make substantial changes to this format, there is a process to follow. However, the changes introduced by the Government make this more streamlined and formalised.
How will a flexible school week impact families?
This is probably the most pressing concern around a possible four-day school week. Family life is full and often chaotic, and the idea of reducing school contact hours is potentially overwhelming for some parents; especially single-income households where work hours and arrangements are inflexible.
These concerns will also be shared by school leaders and teachers as they know that stable home environments set kids up for success, and where this can’t be achieved schools need more resources to support those students.
If students are to learn at home or online for up to one day per week, teachers will be concerned about how kids spend their time when they’re not at school. Learning is social, and motivation for learning is often generated in school environments where the group creates a vacuum of activity and momentum in learning, and less motivated students are drawn in by the group.
This is not so possible where students are learning alone, and this will be a concern to both parents and teachers alike.
What is important for children’s learning?
If we had to essentialise the most to important influences on learning, I would say safety and engagement.
My time conducting research in post-war Northern Uganda taught me this. Students need to feel safe – physically and psychologically – so that their mental resources are free for learning. Unsafe environments trump learning. This is very important to remember in both home and school contexts.
Further, unless students are actively engaged in their learning experiences, information is not retained. Deep and meaningful learning is personal, experiential and memorable.
If you have the choice, choose active rather than passive learning experiences – they will stay with you for longer.
Is there a magic number of learning hours each week?
We are all very used to sending our kids to school for six hours per day, five days a week. We did it, our parents did it, why should it be any different for our kids? When it comes to deep and meaningful learning, there is no magic number of hours, but we do know some things about time that are important for learning.
Learning experiences need to be repeated over a period for information to be filed in our memories.
Learning to read is a long game, as is learning a musical instrument. Really, most lasting learning is a long game, and schools provide structured environments where this long game can happen.
Can this long game happen online or at home? The answer will depend upon the age and learning needs of the individual student. There is no one-size-fits-all response to the virtual vs. reality debate.
Students need time, structures and teachers to reflect upon their learning and make connections in their thinking as well. A learning experience is only useful if it is thought about.
For example, going for a bush walk or visiting a museum – many people do these things, but not everyone thinks deeply about the workings of the ecosystem or the impacts of extinction upon the planet.
This is where the teacher plays a vital and irreplaceable role – making connections for individual students and helping them see what might be otherwise missed.
The other irreplaceable role teachers play is one of reducing stress for students by curating and mediating their learning experiences.
Regardless of the number of contact hours per week, the important thing is that there is contact for the sake of student wellbeing.
Dr Alison Willis is a senior lecturer with UniSC's School of Education and Tertiary Access
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