FACE TO FACE: Is year-round schooling the way to go in British Columbia?
On sunny spring lunchtimes at Monty middle school, as principal, I would watch swarms of kids playing soccer or basketball outside and otherwise happily running around, making up their own rules, getting along, learning life lessons more beneficial than those offered in afternoon math class.
On such idyllic days, I felt like turning off the school bells and letting them play all afternoon, to let them be kids for as long as possible before trudging back to instruction, compliance and competition.
Because our kids need less adult structured time, not more.
But not according to my drill sergeant colleague and Education Minister George Abbott, who recently tabled legislation to encourage year-round schooling.
Without consulting educators (that'll show 'em who's boss) and without spending a nickel, it feigns forward thinking - after all, summer holidays are so agrarian and passé.
Further, it courts allies in the BC Liberals' fight with teachers, serving as a not-so-subtle reminder of much-envied two-month teacher vacations.
Simply, it's good politics.
But good politics and peripheral arguments aside, proponents of year-round schooling ultimately accept the notion that more time in school will help us keep up with other countries whose children go to school eight days a week, 13 months a year and evenings.
Asian students work hard in school because education is important and teachers are revered in Asian culture, not because they go to school more than we do. It's the respect Asian cultures have for education that we should emulate, not their hellish school hours.
In international measures, Finland's students score highest in world (Canada is third). Finnish students enjoy a two-and-a-half month summer vacation and go to school 165 days per year, more than 20 fewer than B.C. students.
Wow, imagine how well Finnish students would do if we gave them more worksheets, FSA exams and made them go to school more!
The academic diligence we hope our children embody won't come from added time or rigour; it will come from within, gently coaxed out by adults through respectful communication, not more school days.
Summer vacation gives unstructured time for kids to be kids. It should be a happy, developmentally important time - as important as their formal schooling.
Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.