COLUMN: School calendar needs rethink

The Upper Canada District School Board released a draft of their schedule for the 2016-17 school year Monday. In that draft was a change to the Christmas holiday schedule, placing a full week of holidays in January. Classes would finish on December 23rd, and return on January 9th. The province has recommended a schedule of classes ending on December 16th and starting again on January 2nd. In this instance, the province actually has the right idea.

Starting Christmas holidays a week later than the province’s recommendation, pushes the Christmas break too far into the new year. Most businesses are preparing to go back to work once the new year hits, back to the full swing of things. Having a full week in January off may be great for those who can afford to take a vacation, but for many it will be a challenge. How many businesses, outside of the retail sector, are productive in December as the holidays approach? Few. It is far easier for parents and caregivers to take time off in the latter days of December, than the beginning of the new year. It is easier for employers to be flexible in giving time off too.

This leads to the broader issue of how much time should kids be in school. The province mandates a minimum of 194 days of instruction. To a parent, it does not feel like that many. Professional development days are added to the calendar every time there is a new contract signed. The way Easter, Christmas and March Break holidays fall, the three-day weekend is far more commonplace than in the working world. Is all that time off helping kids learn?

The entire school calendar is based on Ontario’s agriculture roots. The summer break was long as kids were expected to help on the family farm with the spring planting and fall harvest seasons. A 200-year old education model is outdated. Ontario students returning to school after two months off in the summer often spend much of September getting back into school habits and reviewing material. This reduces the amount of learning time further. A new model is required for education that takes into account learning in the 21st century.

Not all school systems operate like Ontario’s. Australia operates a school system that has 10-weeks per term, with 2-weeks off. Four terms of this, with an extra two-weeks off at Christmas to balance the school year out. December is their peak summer season, so this works well. Graduation and literacy rates are at par between Australian states and Ontario. The German model is like Ontario’s, there are more two week breaks and a shorter summer break, but there are more instruction days and they are longer days. In Ontario there is a least of five hours per day instruction, in most German states, six. The average work day for Ontarians is eight hours. German literacy and graduation rates are at par, or are higher than Ontario’s, depending on which state you compare.

By keeping the current model for education in Ontario, the government and school boards are doing a disservice to those they are educating. A more balanced school schedule is needed so that students can receive an education that will be a benefit to them in the future. Overhauling school times, instruction length and the schedules for holidays and breaks, would bring the education system more in line with the working world. That will only help prepare students better in the future, and assist families in planning their time. 200-year old school models do not do that.