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Should we learn all day?

By Efrat Shapir

A student this summer asked me about the purpose of being at school all day. “Can’t you just teach me all that I need to know in say a two-hour window and let me go home?” he asked. My response rambled on about how school prepares students for the workplace.

Of course, this same question applies to the workplace: do we really have to work all day instead of getting what needs to get done done and be done for the day?

In both cases, this is a legitimate question which doesn’t have a simple answer.

Generally speaking, both the parental and academic units expect children to be at school all day. Why, though? The following immediately pop to mind: to be in a safe space, to stay out of trouble, to have a nourishing social environment, and obviously to learn. These are all valuable reasons as well as factors that enable learning, but do all these factors require eight hours each and every day? Couldn’t less count for more?

It is no secret that we have only so many learning or productive hours in a day, which is significantly lower than the hours spent in school. Is the goal behind a full day of school to allow enough time for all students to actualize their productive ability during the school day, so that if they’re slow to get started or if they burn out quickly, there’s enough time to work, rest, and repeat?

Time is a very good friend to learning.

Certain concepts require time in order to absorb and get a handle of. For example, mathematical concepts that seem like rocket science in grade 9 become clearer in grade 10. Not necessarily due to a better teacher or a stronger explanation; rather, time and repetition make the difference. However, this is a different concept of time, a longer horizontal time as opposed to the vertical time frame of a day at school.

In the individualized school setting, where teaching is shaped to the students, their ability and pace, the question becomes even more acute. Do students need to be in school all day, if the learning is structured more specifically to them?

Wholistic learning.

Being in the school all day allows for different, more wholistic learning. The discussion that followed with the student mentioned above was riveting. This could only happen because he was there, because he was forced to be there. We also played chess and watched a few videos for the same reason, because we had time together. The value of this type of living education exceeds any type of content-based learning.

Not all students want or can engage in social, living education, either with their teachers or their peers. For them, school is learning in order to complete high school and its requirements. In an ideal world, this is a temporary situation. Perhaps the environment is not right yet or the social circle not ideal for them. Till the environment improves and their social-emotional needs met, the short answer is that these students do not have to be in school all day, so long as they learn the required content towards course completion.

Living education.

Ultimately, school should encourage students to learn in whatever way fits them. Ideally, school will allow students to experience not only content-based learning, but also this type of learning, which I have called living education. Living education happens organically in a day that is not built solely around class time and class content. To be able to learn in this way, teachers and students have to be in school all day. This is the only way for it to happen.


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