Monday, 25 July 2011

Should we scrap the six-week holiday?

Well, here we are on day one of le grand départ and already we're being told how bad it is for the kids, how awful for the economy and how stressful for parents. If you were reading the same Sunday 'paper as me yesterday you'll have seen reports claiming that the long vacation is responsible for something dreadful known as 'summer learning loss', with children sliding backwards down the educational performance scale during the holidays as fast as they scramble up trees and climbing frames, that the brain is like a muscle and 'forgets' to learn if it isn't being hot-housed in a classroom and all manner of other spuriously backed claims.

Let's take the so-called 'learning slide' first. Sounds fun and - as one columnist put it yesterday - is apparently 'beyond dispute'. (I would link the to article, but it's on one of those odious Murdoch pay-per-read sites so it'd be pointless.) Anyway, I'd like to dispute it. Because, although the learned columnist rightly claims that 'As early as 1978 as American study found a dramatic deterioration in performance during the long vacation, particularly in maths...' it seems to have escaped this particular polemicist that, in America, the long vacation is much longer - typically over ten weeks. Next, let's tackle this 'muscular learning' red-herring. Of course, it's true that - like anything - you either use it or lose it, but there are many, many more ways of learning - about all sorts of different things - than the sitting-in-a-classroom-with-teacher kind of learning, and while it's undoubtedly true that the habit - and I really do mean that most sincerely, folks: it's a habit - of learning might need a little refreshing on the first day back in September, there's no 'loss' that can't be swiftly recovered, and certainly no loss which can't outweigh the far greater, wider, broader and richer learning opportunities most children are able to access (for themselves) during the vacation.

And no, Mr Syed, I don't mean simply 'going to museums' either. Although there are undoubtedly some holiday educational opportunities open only to the children of the well-off - and I'm not disputing the fact that poverty makes non-school learning harder - I'm not just talking about that kind of learning. Think about it. What you - we all - learn at school is but a small part of what we need, as adults, to function in society, to maintain healthy relationships, to hold down jobs, to bring up children, to appreciate the world we live in. There has to be some time to learn in the way our brains were intended to learn - in an unstructured, exploratory, random, trial-and-error manner - and time too to learn the things that can't be taught.

I could go on. I could regale you with an armful of reasons why we teachers need six weeks to get ready for the new school year (those course don't write themselves, you know) or tell you why I think I long break can actually be good for pupils (new starts, a new beginning - vital for those who've messed up a little the yea before). I could, but I won't. Because it's the holidays. And whatever you're doing, have a good one. And make the most of it. Because if some of these nay-sayers have their way, it might be your last.


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