By Maria Loreto Biehl and Cecilia Diaz Campos*
Probably very few of us question the importance of increasing children’s opportunities to access recreational spaces, sports and culture, language training, or technologies. We all desire that our children receive a modern education that will enable them to think both critically and creatively and allows them to navigate and even transform the world in which we live—a world where change is often the only constant. More so, in today´s society, the expectations increasingly are that children should acquire those skills and knowledge, believed necessary to succeed in life, in school.
Nowadays, the school day in a majority of Latin American public education systems lasts four hours. However, the option of lengthening it has been manifested in the Metas Educativas 2021 (only in Spanish), a set of educational goals established in 2008 and to which all of the region’s education ministers agreed. Following this framework, many countries have included the expansion of the school day within their strategies to improve education quality and, even more so, equity.
This raises several questions: what implications does the expansion of the school day bring for schools and students? Do more hours in the classroom actually improve educational results and student learning? In light of the recently-finalized Programa de Jornada Extendida in Rio Negro in Argentina, which was supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) between 2008 and 2014, I’d like to share a few thoughts.
The modalities for a school day extension are diverse. The objective, the time of extension, the target age group, the teaching methodologies, and whether it is mandatory or not, can vary significantly.
For example, in Río Negro, the day was extended from 4 to 8 hours, made mandatory for primary school, and the extra time was used for English-language, technology, and art workshops, as well as for curricular reinforcement. In addition, two supplementary modalities for a school day extension exist in Río Negro: a school day of also eight hours, which doubles the time spent on the curriculum of the previous four hour school day, and the “extra hours“, which uses the additional hours for educational reinforcement
Apart from modalities, most of the studies available associate the lengthening of instruction time with higher student performance – especially when targeting vulnerable groups and when the time is devoted to activities that include direct interaction between the teacher and the students, and when it is accompanied by changes in management and teaching practices. In other words, the success of extending the school day depends on how the additional time is used.
Risks and potential
The extended school day can present some “dangers.” Given the complexity of organizing workload for longer school days, the risk of focusing on the most visible areas, such as improving facilities or the implementation of workshops or additional classes in an isolated fashion emerges. Although these activities are important, they can leave aside the potential for optimizing teaching methodologies during the entire school day.
Although no results in terms of learning, measured by standardized exams, exist yet for Río Negro, the tendencies are promising. For example, between 2007 and 2012, urban schools with extended school days registered an increase of 19% in the completion rate, compared with an increase of just 10.4% in schools with regular-length days.
Furthermore, the experience so far allows identifying a few key elements. Among them figures a ministerial resolution that, since 2013, has been regulating the extension of the school day and has been tackling the issues faced by pioneers who first embarked on the path to new schools.
On the other hand, weekly sessions for educational planning have been institutionalized. Today, a clear need to incorporate support to migrate to new forms of school management exists, both administrative and pedagogical.
In the administrative realm, it is necessary to take into account that establishing new facilities such as dining halls and coordinating a more numerous and diverse teaching body is essential. In terms of learning management, it is necessary to support school in their efforts to create integrated curricula which take into account international evidence on how children learn. In addition, it is imperative to seek an adequate balance among recreational, creative, and academic activities. In this way, the “fatigue” effect among students can be prevented and will allow taking advantage of their time spent in school.
To conclude, over the years, Argentina has learned valuable lessons, which are worth deepening and building upon. To contribute to the discussion, I’d like to end this blog entry by inviting you to read Nuevos tiempos para la educación primaria: Lecciones sobre la extensión de la jornada escolar de UNICEF y CIPEC (only in Spanish). This book analyzes the lessons learned from the models of school day extension in Córdoba, Mendoza, Río Negro, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires in Argentina. In addition, the publication presents a good synthesis of the policies and studies of school day extensions at the international level. I hope you will enjoy it!
* Cecilia Diaz Campos as an intern with the Catedra Program at the IDB’s country office in Argentina.