There are many good things about the Irish education system, but comfortable family life and working parents are not among them.
hat we have is more in keeping with rural Ireland in the 1950s than with a society where most parents work outside the home. Yes, our learning hours are slightly above the OECD average, but these are spread over too short days in primary school and too short school times in secondary school. Optimizing them would make life easier for students, parents and, please be patient, teachers.
First to primary schools, when we talk about a childcare crisis we are talking about crèches, but if you can secure a place and afford them, they are open all year round and all day.
When children reach school age, life becomes difficult when both parents work. It’s even harder for single parents. I was reminded of this while talking to a mother from Ukraine whose child was just starting at our school. She said the school is so supportive, the teachers so nice, but she worries about being able to work when the school day ends at 2:10 p.m.
Last Thursday, the kids finished at 11:45 for their teacher training, and the thought of such ad hoc disruptions popping up out of nowhere must have stressed them out even more.
When I suggested that I might know someone who could offer her a job, she looked panicked and said she could only work part-time because it was impossible to pay for childcare.
She was curious how I managed it. I told her that I work from home, otherwise it would be difficult for me.
My youngest among junior infants is only in school four hours and 40 minutes a day, which means cramming yourself into a physical commute is no runner. Sure, even when I wasn’t working, I had a hard time getting all the chores done before the kids got home. Working from home has made the short school day easier for many parents, but of course many do not have this luxury. She told me that in Ukraine her child could stay at school until 6 p.m. if needed; There was a homework club, a snack bar and extracurricular activities.
But at least their kids aren’t junior or senior babies who vomit an hour earlier than everyone else. Surely that has to go? Especially given that all children complete at least their preschool hours in the Early Childhood Care and Education Program (ECCE) and most women work.
Some schools have private care options on site for the hour in between. Friends at other schools pay around €120 a month for this – I find that unacceptable.
There is clearly a demand for a longer school day. The children would appreciate extra Aistear playtime and longer lunch breaks.
Isn’t it about time that all elementary school kids finished at the same time and they could easily add an extra hour to make the school day six hours and 40 minutes for all kids?
Teachers could devote more time to class, students more time to study and play, and parents would have a fair run in the workday.
In England last week a white paper announced that by next September schools must be open at least 32.5 hours a week so that ‘no child is left behind’ – which schools in Ireland would be doing if we add to that hour.
Some schools are more modern. A teacher friend works at an excellent school called Quin Dangan, ten minutes from Ennis, where the principal knows the pressures of working parents. It’s pretty much an 8am to 5pm campus. They have facilities that smaller schools don’t have, but as a starting point if the primary school day was longer and everyone finished at the same time there would be huge benefits.
On the second level we should have more days in school. At the moment there are at least 167, which means that we have longer summer holidays and shorter school periods than most countries in Europe. We have slightly above average study hours, so it’s no wonder our exam years are the focus of the pressure cooker.
The changes to the Leaving Cert announced this week to spread exams over two years are welcome, but what’s really needed is a longer duration to ease the burden on students and teachers. Give more time for exercise and reading during the day – spread out those learning hours, it takes time to process new information. When I look at my son’s class schedule, I feel exhausted.
This summer he will finish a month ahead of his siblings. Handy if we lived on a farm, but playing Fortnite at home for a month isn’t something I’m excited about.
Are we really going like this? Even after two years of disruption? Research shows that it is children from poorer backgrounds who experience the greatest learning loss after the summer. Didn’t Covid force us to evaluate? Great teachers are one of our strengths and if we expect them to work harder then of course they should be paid harder. Last month, the Ministry of Education’s main inspection report for elementary teaching and learning was very good for about 85 percent of the inspections.
But it also said the impact of the pandemic meant that students most at risk of educational disadvantage were disproportionately affected and that it’s possible we could see a slowdown or even a reversal in progress over the next few years, that we have made in improving the learning results of the Deis students. This should be taken seriously and seen in a broader sense that as our society changes schools need to become more social hubs and everyone will To use.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/send-children-to-school-for-longer-and-cut-their-holidays-so-we-can-all-benefit-41512627.html Keep kids in school longer and vacations shorter so we can all benefit