In many parts of the world, a long summer holiday is granted to students. It can often range from about one to three months. However, in more recent times, particularly during this post-pandemic period, more and more people are calling for a review of the duration of school holidays.
While some emphasize that shortening school holidays would allow students to catch up on the time lost from learning during the pandemic, others contend that students and teachers still need this vacation time to relax and recharge. As the debate rages, comes countries have however begun the process of shortening summer holidays and redistributing the extra days to other periods during the school year to still allow for relaxation and recharging.
Pros of shortening school holidays
1. Eliminate the summer learning gap
Studies have shown that during long summer holidays, students will typically lose some of the academic knowledge and skills they have accumulated through the school year. Many that manage to independently keep up have to deliberately refresh their memories otherwise they are prone to losing study habits and become academically lazy from lacking consistency in their efforts.
It has been suggested that shortening the summer holidays could help to reduce this problem. With shorter vacations, students do not have to rely as much on their personal efforts to keep up as they get to benefit from the support of school attendance and teacher attention that encourages them to better focus on their studies.
For teachers, getting in some additional teaching time during summer will help to reinforce learning and reduce the strain of having to bring students back up to speed after a long hiatus. They become better able to get students through the required curriculum and have more flexibility to support them in pursuing other interests.
2. Reduce stress on parents
For working parents, holidays can be quite stressful as they have to figure out how to keep their children supervised and occupied for what can feel like weeks on end. Many often have to schedule their annual leaves for this period to have at least one parent available to oversee childcare. Not to mention the additional resources they may have to put into caring for the child including food and funding activities like camps.
Shortening school holidays will reduce this burden and often makes it easier for schools to keep their doors open for those that need a place to be during vacation time.
3. Less disruption
In many countries, summer is often the least busy time in terms of seasonal and religious events and holidays. Autumn and winter periods tend to have the most celebrations. Students face less disruption during summer and can therefore better focus on their studies and other pursuits.
It has also been proposed that exams that are usually conducted around Easter could be held much earlier when there are fewer festivities to be concerned about. This would allow students to better focus and parents to have more time to supervise study time.
Due to how long summer holidays can be, they can also drastically alter children’s routines. They suddenly shift from structured days to endless periods of boredom that cause them to lack motivation, and irregularly eat and sleep. Smaller breaks mean less disruption and less free time.
4. Promotes equality
While some students spend the summer just being bored or having to work, others are more privileged to be able to attend camps and travel abroad on vacation. The enrichment students get from this holiday period can be hugely varied, depending on background and resources. Shorter breaks can make for less disparity in such experiences amongst classmates.
Cons of shortening school holidays
1. Less downtime
Both teachers and students need summer holidays to relax and recharge after the stress of the school year. It gives them the chance to switch off without worrying they will soon need to get back to the grind. It is a time of year that the overwhelming majority of both sides look forward to and would feel short-changed if shortened.
2. Disrupts planning
Teachers often take advantage of the summer holidays to plan their lessons for the school year. They can take their time doing this without worrying about other obligations like conducting classes or marking exams. During summer vacations, they can use their classrooms like offices and enjoy some peace and quiet as they get ready for the next school year.
3. Inhibits family bonding
Summer holidays are a great opportunity for parents and siblings to spend extended periods together, having fun, learning and simply bonding. it is also a good chance to plan for kids to connect with extended family, which can be harder when you have a tighter schedule.
4. Stunts independence
Having extended periods of free time is a good opportunity to nurture independence in kids. They get to figure out how they can spend their days constructively. They can consider what activities will fill up their time and of what benefit they can be. From summer jobs that help them earn money and learn about the working environment, to camps that let them advance their talents and skills, there can be more opportunities for personal and academic growth when students have more time to themselves. Being in control of planning for their free time will help nurture independence that will stand them in good stead when they move on to college or university.
There are fair arguments to be made for both keeping the long summer holidays and shortening them. Studies have shown the outcomes can be mixed and that shortening holidays does not result in any major educational disadvantage to students. It is however important to also consider the impact on teachers and how easily they can burn out from what can be a high-stress job.
For any International Schools in Hong Kong or governments considering shortening of summer holidays, it would be advisable to at least redistribute the days taken away from summer to other periods during the school year to still allow students and teachers to enjoy a similar level of downtime without suffering as serious a disruption to learning, promote equality, and better accommodate the working lives of modern-day parents.