Politicians in several European countries as well as in the United States have suggested longer school days for public school pupils. The suggestion has in some countries like Denmark been voted in as part of a greater school policy reform in 2012. One of the more sympathetic arguments for implementing this proposal has been to give children more diversity during the school day as well as making creative subjects such as theater and music more available. More cynically it has been suggested that longer school days will lead to better results in international tests such as PISA.
There have been many arguments for and against longer school days. But one of the most prominent is the following:
According to an article in the British newspaper The Telegraph the British secretary of education Michael Cove “proposed a nine or 10-hour day in which activities such as drama, cadets and orchestras that are routine in the private sector would be a fact of life for all state school pupils. That would make it easier for parents to go to work, and cut the cost of childcare. The six-week summer holidays were “designed at a time when we had an agricultural economy,”.
Look, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with a proposal for longer school days – if only the starting-point of this proposal was based on the best interest of the children, which it is clearly not.
Besides all the arguments for and against longer school days, which may or may not be valid, what can be seen within the proposal is also a particular way that politicians view children as future competitors in the global economy, almost like little soldiers being trained and preparing themselves for battle. It seems as though the perk of getting more fun activities is merely a carrot to the stick that is having to spend more time at school. Wanting to give parents better conditions for being able to go to work obviously also isn’t in the best interest of the parents, assuming that they care for the wellbeing of their children.
Increasingly education has become about profit optimization in one way or another and when this is the first priority and starting-point of politicians, these surely cannot be trusted to have our children’s best interest at heart. In fact parents are the only ones (along with a few dedicated and passionate teachers) that truly care about education in context to how it benefits our children, rather than looking at children as investments to best serve a national economy.
We have therefore come to a crossroad. More and more parents are home-schooling their children, but this is obviously a privilege that only those with sufficient funds can afford. And even then, a lot of parents home-school their children based on wanting to teach them certain sub-cultural values and have very little training in how to educate children. Most of us however send our children to school every day in the hopes that the education system protects them and cares for them. Within that we view ourselves, as part of society, simply making due with whatever measures are required. “My child go to school to get an education to make it in life and I provide for them as best as I can by going to work every day.” That’s what most parents think. We see the education system as an extension of the school or ourselves as a facility that takes over where we left off in the morning. But unfortunately that is not what school or education is about, at least anymore.
I daily hear students talk nervously about the amount of national tests they have to take. It is not a small insignificant part of their education, it affects them – greatly. And it affects our work as teachers, because we have to spend more and more time grading children’s academic skills than we do teaching.
Longer school days may or may not be a good idea. As a teacher I cannot even genuinely consider whether it is one or the other. Because my perspective doesn’t matter. Your child’s perspective doesn’t matter. We are here to be soldiers in an economic warfare – a warfare that might be delusional at an absolute level – but that has real casualties and consequences in our children’s lives.
It is the duty of us as parents who care about our children’s wellbeing to take responsibility for making sure that this perspective is not lost in the battled for global economic dominance. If we are not satisfied being pawns in a game of numbers, if we do not want our children to be pawns in a game of numbers – it is up to us to start supporting political solutions that radically change how we view children.
The Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income System changes the very foundation upon which political decisions are made from focusing on greed, fear and competition to a commonsensical consideration of the wellbeing of the general community. And because education is always following society’s general direction, the wellbeing of our children will for the first time be an incremental priority at a political level. Then, and only then can we begin having real discussions about points such as longer school days, because the discussions won’t be tainted by a secret agenda that uses diplomacy to enforce its own interests. Instead it will be the best interest of our children that will be starting-point of every discussion, every piece of academic research and every political discussion. This might sound like a utopian fairytale but it is actually only what should have been done already and all it requires is a change in our starting-point. The sky is the limit to the kind of education system we can create. There are so many innovative and creative changes that could be made to improve the lives of our children, but we cannot even begin discussing such changes until we stop accepting the current system as the most optimal one by default. We got to dare not only thinking out of the box, but stepping out of it too.