The five-day workweek has been a part of modern-day cultures for the longest time. However, more recently, there has been a transition or trial by many organisations of a four-day workweek that allows employees more time for self-care and better work-life balance.
Many companies that have tried this schedule have found it has had positive effects on employee happiness and work productivity. This approach has been tried by numerous types of organisations whose employees reported feeling less stressed despite having to complete the same level of workload in less time.
But what of a four-day week for international schools as well? School attendance tends to match the regular workweek, with students having to similarly commit to their studies as adults do to their work obligations. But could reducing this attendance also have benefits on the well-being of students and their academic performance? And what of its impact on educators?
How a four-day week could impact learning
When you consider students, a primary concern would be what they would do with their free time. Especially if both parents are working. For younger children, having a day off without school would likely compel working parents to pay for extra childcare, which would add to their expenses. For older children, there could be worries that they would engage in bad behaviour.
Studies where four-day weeks were introduced in schools however indicate that students tended to use their extra free time for either relaxation or constructive activities like engaging in after-school activities, jobs, chores, hobbies, or running errands. They would primarily spend their extra day at home, spending time with family and enjoying longer and better sleep. Even a majority of the parents involved in such research were found to be in favour of the four-day week.
However, even with the seemingly improved home life, academic achievement or student proficiency was found to progress more slowly with students that switched to a four-day week versus those that retained the standard five-day week. It was also found that, unlike the work environment, a four-day week did not affect student absenteeism rates.
When it came to teachers, the response to the four-day week was highly positive. The teaching profession is considered one of the toughest with a low retention rate. Many teachers suffer from feeling overworked, stressed, and experience burnout that pushes them to switch careers. They also point to overbearing bureaucracy and insufficient funding as contributing factors to their woes.
A study by Autonomy found that almost three-quarters of teachers were in favour of a four-day workweek believing it would have a positive impact on their teaching and make them more inclined to remain in the profession.
Is a four-day workweek feasible?
While a four-day week is achievable in many schools, the impact on student proficiency is worrisome. Researchers have found that with more time, the disparity in student growth for those that had a four-day week versus those that had a five-day week continued to become more pronounced. The decline was found to be worse in subjects like math. Some have opined that this decline could be a result of the reduction in actual learning time, though this has yet to be established for sure. Schools that instituted four-day weeks did save on costs, however, the amount was found to not be that substantial. Areas in which money was saved included utilities and school meals. There were also some savings in labour when applied to school staff that were paid hourly wages.
Many schools in different countries and at different levels have tried the four-day week model and implemented it successfully with the support of teachers, students and parents. However, though the outcomes for students on the more social aspects have been positive, the academic side has suffered. When you consider the impact on teachers, who chronically feel overworked, there is some relief achieved from working fewer hours.
This outcome may mean that for schools considering a four-day week, there needs to be discussion as to whether growth in social benefits achieved outweigh the possible decline in academic performance. With parents, students and teachers being overwhelmingly in support of the four-day week, it does seem that the sacrifice is considered justified.
If schools do decide to pursue the four-day week model, they would likely need to mitigate the effect of declining student proficiency by trying to minimise the loss of instructional time. This may mean trying to extend the existing learning time per day, for the four days of in-person learning. This may however result in students being more tired and having less time to do their homework and fulfil other obligations like chores on the days of school learning.
Another option would be to supplement the in-person learning of the four-day week with additional online learning. With so many schools already having put in place the infrastructure for online learning during the pandemic, this option is easy to incorporate. Asynchronous learning where students have the flexibility to decide when they want to study could be a good way to apply this. This way students have more freedom to decide when they will access learning materials such as lectures, course material or homework.
There would also be a need for support for working parents so that they can access more off-day childcare services. However, if the school days in a four-day week are extended, it would allow students to arrive home at the same time or even later than their parents. This would mean that for some who have had to arrange for afterschool care or programs that are paid for, there could be savings that could be put towards care during the new off day.
What of a four-and-a-half-day week?
Some schools in London tried to compromise by trying a four-and-a-half-day week. Schools would end the Friday school day by noon, allowing students to take up extracurricular activities for the rest of the day. Teachers were able to make use of the remainder of the day to plan for the following week, ensuring they could better enjoy a full weekend for relaxation, running errands, or other personal obligations. This model achieved almost unanimous support from teachers who strongly preferred it over the five-day week.