Sunday, September 06, 2009

When 'More Class' Does Not Mean 'More Class'

It is that time of year in Atlantis when some kind of perversion overtakes the education system. It is perverse because a one-week respite from the arduous and wearisome life of the school suddenly turns into a nightmare of extra classes for purported remediation of the student body's collective shortcomings.

This is how it works.

At the end of Year N, the teachers in each school have worked out beautiful and professional departmental workplans and schemes of work. By Week X of Year N+1, these documents say in incredible detail, the teachers shall have covered syllabus sections A1, A2... ...An, using the following tools and strategies, and so on.

By Week X-2, however, there is the sinking feeling that the syllabus has not been adequately covered. And hence, by September, frantic plans to force students to stay back to cover syllabus sections An (and possibly A(n-1), A(n-2) as well) have been put in place. So the one-week break becomes a couple of days' worth (12-16 hours) of extra classes.

The reasons are many, both the explicitly announced ones and the secret ones that no one dares to mention. Let me attempt to draw back the veil (the Greek word apocalüpsis, which means exactly that, is quite appropriate here). Here are some possibilities which I have seen in real life during my time:
  • It's actually quite likely that the school has, as a mega-entity, put so many extra activities in its calendar that the scheme of work has failed for lack of days in which to execute it. Of course, the sub-entities (i.e. teachers and heads) often have no clue how many days this will be. Most know to subtract available days around public holidays and such, but many don't compensate for the odd extra concerts, emergency briefings, meetings which take good teachers away from their classes, and suchlike.
  • Some teachers are incompetent. You can tell when every class has got a different schedule and they're all learning different things, and yet sitting for the same papers. Somebody is probably teaching too slowly. I know this because topics that should have taken two weeks (or 7 teaching sessions) have ended up taking five weeks because some teachers can't get their lessons to work.
  • Some teachers are subcompetent. You can tell they know their stuff. But they're not good at handling a class well enough to cover the material sufficiently within the time given.
  • You can often blame the students, but my experience is that students will take whatever they can get. Most of them don't keep tabs on the scheme of work, which rightly should be executed well by the department concerned.
  • Teachers sometimes have a reluctance to teach too quickly because then students might fail their tests and blame the teacher. I think this is nonsense. Students ought to learn quickly if the teachers are competent. If they refuse to learn quickly, then there are several possibilities — here are three: the scheme of work is screwed up because it doesn't take into account the student body; the teacher is not doing a good job of assessing student weaknesses and dealing with them; the school is in denial because it thinks its students (or teachers) are very smart, but they're not. That said, teaching slowly doesn't often help as much as teaching quickly and getting down to application of what has been taught.
These are some of the main reasons why I've got students going back to school during their break. Of course, the real reason might be something better or worse. You could always ask the right people, and you might learn something too.

My personal opinion is that students spend too much time in school. I am certain that you can have them spend two-thirds of the time in school and still get them a proper education. It doesn't make sense to produce statistics saying that these young people are the best in the world and then say implicitly that it's because you keep them in school so long. That's not value-addedness. It's more like expanding your economy without upgrading it. 'More class' certainly doesn't mean 'more class'; it might not even end up 'world class'.

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Blogger dlanorpi said...

I wholeheartedly agree with this point, "students spend too much time in school." I remembered that I had to take a day of medical leave to complete an urgent piece of work, without missing out on anything in school.

Monday, September 07, 2009 3:14:00 am  
Blogger AvengingAngels said...

That's not true. I remember personally extending the number of hours I spent in school so as to avoid going home. Too many hours in school is only relative to your opportunity cost. (Interestingly, that story ends with me going to boarding school and thus spending ALL my hours in school.)

And besides, if you're clever about re-purposing lessons into sleep/food/social sessions then there's nothing wrong with being in school that long. In fact the prolonged interaction with peers is probably what drove many of us to become friends.

There is no excuse for poor teaching, but I really don't think a long school day is something to avoid.

Monday, September 07, 2009 10:13:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

AA: I think that re-purposing simply means that you've missed the point. School's designed to have x hours for school, which means that if you can repurpose, then school's not doing its job.

A long school day (as you point out, relative to your opportunity cost) simply means that someone planned badly, since it therefore need not have been that long a school day.

Credit to you for making good use of time that otherwise would have been wasted, though. I partly suspect, however, that the evolution of your case has more to do with your social network and family obligations than the idea of official scheduling.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009 12:12:00 am  
Blogger Fate T. Harlaown said...

Does this scheduling carry over to timetables or something? Some things which seem generally annoying like

1) Really really long blocs of 1 subject (prac period followed by lesson period = 2h20 straight)
2) Recesses being really late (first recess at 11.40)
3) It was pleasantly surprising (not) to find out that after the end of TOK/EE, my Week A Tuesday was lesson/2 hours of recess/pe/1 hour of recess/lesson. Which is really just a waste of time (thankfully we managed to shift the lesson forward)

I noticed once that the scheme of work said EE first draft in T3 of the first year or something... yeah right. >.>

Wednesday, September 09, 2009 5:40:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Well, for those who want to understand this discussion a bit better, perhaps you should look at this post.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009 7:32:00 am  

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