When I was in school I could not wait for the 3 pm bell to ring, indicating the day was done. For me, a 6 hour day was more than enough! Thus, it does not surprise me that a proposal currently being discussed in England to extend the school day to 9 or 10 hours and reducing vacation time from 13 to 7 weeks is generating lots of controversy. The potential possible benefits cited are numerous, from improved learning to greater female labor force participation and reduced crime. Proponents of the measure argue that it will give kids the equivalent of an extra seven years of compulsory education, an impressive figure indeed. Those against the measure emphasize that children need breaks to learn, teachers already work long hours and more hours in the classroom don’t necessary translate into more learning. But has the idea of extended schooling only been revolving around Europe or in the US?
Certainly longer school days are common in the Asian region where learning outcomes are high, however in Latin America, many countries have also been experimenting with the so-called jornada extendida as part of their efforts to improve the quality of education. The most significant cases to date are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. But other countries are also advancing in this direction. Indeed, in the Dominican Republic where I currently work, the Government has established an ambitious goal to have 80% of the public schools in the country with an extended 8 hour school day by 2016 and the Bank is providing support to achieve it.
Will longer hours let students thrive? The results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that more classroom time per week has positive effects, especially for children from more disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, countries with the best results have policies for extended instruction time for the most disadvantaged children. However, as often is the case, implementation is key to success. Making students stay in school longer is a simple but risky solution. If poorly implemented, the effects can be opposite of those desired with students becoming exhausted, losing interest or at worst dropping out.
In Latin America, time will be the best judge of whether or not the extended school day improves learning outcomes. Nonetheless, in the countries involved, besides longer hours, the extension of the school day should be considered an opportunity to improve teaching practices, transform the school environment into one that revolves around student learning, and create more stimulating and challenging opportunities for students. If this occurs, it´s definitely a step in the right direction.