Every student knows that groggy feeling
of struggling to stay awake through first period.
The day drags on endlessly…
until the final bell sounds.
Kids in the US seem to spend more hours in school
than other students around the world.
But does this idea really hold up?
How do students in other countries spend their time,
and what can the US learn from them?
U.S. students spend more time in K through 12 schools
than their peers in many other countries
A recent study by the Pew Research Center
compared intended instructional time among
33 countries including the US.
Most US states require their public schools
to have between 175 and 180 days of elementary
schooling per year, depending on grade level.
That translates into an average of 943 hours per year.
The only countries where kids spent more time
in elementary school each year were: Israel, Australia,
Mexico and Chile.
In middle school, the average time for US kids
jumps up to 1,016 hours.
With so much time spent in the classroom,
it would seem kids in America should be among
the highest achievers. But,
that’s not the case.
In Japan and South Korea,
kids spend an average of about 150
instructional hours less per year in school
than their peers in the US.
And yet, they consistently score higher on international tests.
How is that possible?
In both countries, competition to attend elite universities
is extremely rigorous.
It’s common for students to get extra help
with private tutoring and night classes,
known as’cram schools’.
In Japan,’cram schools’ or jukus
are offered to kids as young as four years old —
to help get them into private kindergartens.
In South Korea, some cram schools stay open
as late as 11pm, so high school students can
better prepare for college entrance exams.
These extra hours aren’t counted as time spent in school,
but evening classes are a huge part of a student’s life.
In US schools, kids typically start class early –
between 7:30 and 8:00am.
But in other countries like Germany and Finland
where academic performance is high,
school schedules and hours are more flexible.
In Germany, the school day starts between
7:30 and 8:15 but finishes around noon or 1pm –
a tradition that dates back 250 years.
While US kids eat lunch at school
and stay in class up to 4pm,
in Germany, kids go home
for lunch and don’t return to school in the afternoon. Instead,
they spend two to three hours each day doing homework.
The German school schedule might look appealing
to American students, but it was rooted in
the idea that mothers would be at home
to help take care of the kids.
Over the last decade, all-day schools have
started to catch on, to match the German economy
and working parents’ schedules.
In Finland, classes start between 8 and 9am
and run until about 1 or 2 –
with a hot lunch served
every day and minimal homework after school.
Teachers typically give kids a 15-minute break
for every 45-minutes of instruction.
Research has shown that frequent breaks keep students ‘fresh’ and more focused
throughout the day.
Kids in America may have longer, more rigid school schedules,
but at least they can relax during a 10 week long
Across Europe, summer breaks range from
six weeks in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK
to up to 13 weeks for kids in Italy and Portugal.
It’s commonly thought that the summer schedule
was created to serve the American’farm economy’
so kids could join their families and work the fields.
But that’s a myth!
Kids in rural areas took their breaks during
the spring and the fall, when crops were planted,
and then harvested and sold.
Classes were held during the summer when kids
weren’t needed as much on the farm.
The real reason for summer break?
In cities, the summer heat drove kids out of
the sweltering classrooms — and their families out of town to escape high temperatures.
By the late 19th century, school reformers
argued for standardization of the calendar
across urban and rural areas –
resulting in the modern school schedule. Today,
across the US,
officials are experimenting with all kinds of schedules
like year-round classes or four-day weeks
with longer hours Monday through Thursday.
Over the last decade, enrollment in online schools has tripled –
and an estimated two million kids are now being taught at home.
Supporters of homeschooling say they can cover
the same amount of material in half the time,
allowing kids to participate in more extra-curricular activities
Virtual classrooms and online technology
are driving major changes in education,
ones that could impact school schedules in a dramatic way.
And that school bell?
It might not ring as often — or as long — in the future.
Every student knows that groggy feeling