The Four-Day School Week, More New Experiments Around The World
As a new school year begins, educators from Poland to Australia to the U.S. are implementing four-day weeks, in a variety of ways. Will this be a short-lived fad, or the beginning of a new approach to education that can reduce stress for students, help recruit teachers and rethink learning altogether?
Beginning this year, students in Wodzisław Śląski, a city of 50,000 in southern Poland, will only have four days of traditional school classes per week. The reduced schedule — which comes along with fewer tests and new assessment criteria — were an initiative that came from the citizen grassroots level and ultimately was approved by municipal authorities, reports Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
The experimental four-day school week, for students in grades one through three, as well as certain older classes, will be instituted in all 13 public elementary schools within the city. Beginning in September, students will devote one day a week to carrying out non-traditional educational projects, such as going to science centers, learning craftsmanship, or taking walks through the local forests. The measure has been widened from a smaller pilot program tested last year, which included only a few of the city’s public schools.
Joanna Kulińska, principal of Primary School No. 2 in Wodzisław Śląski, explained that classes in select subjects will be combined into blocks, during which students can carry out a thematic project, go to a science center or take part in a non-traditional nature lesson. “This is a fantastic idea that allows us to transmit knowledge in an interesting and modern way – through experience and practice”, Kulińska added.
The new policy in Poland is part of an expanding interest in the four-day school week, with similar experiments in the United States, Australia, and France, with some instituting one full day of “non-traditional” learning, or simply an extra day off, as a means of reducing student stress and increasing engagement in class time. Some also see it as a way to reduce costs at a time of economic constraints.
In the United States, more than 1,600 schools in a total of 24 states have decided to embrace the four-day week, according to a report fromMIT Press Direct. Their findings show that, rather than “laying off teachers and administrators, increasing class sizes, closing or consolidating schools, [or] implementing student activity fees”, many school districts have instead chosen to take one day, usually Friday, off from the traditional school week.
Kids are busier now, sometimes they don't get a break
But in spite of the financial motivations, some parents and students alike have found that the four-day week has been beneficial for their performance and mental health.
Jennie Gentry, a mother of three in Missouri, where about one-quarter of schools have shifted to a four-day week, remarked upon her children’s support for the measure.
"I feel like they're happier because they have that extra day to catch up”, she told ABC News, "Kids are busier now, I mean they play so many sports and things like that now on the weekends, sometimes they don't really get a break."
However, the shift to the simple four-day week — unlike the Polish model of shifting a day towards “non-traditional” learning activities — has also caused concern among parents who work five days a week, and struggle to pay for childcare on their children's days off.
Teachers meeting in the southern Polish town of Wodzisław Śląski
In response to an ongoing teacher shortage, some in Australia have suggested implementing a four-day work week, which has resulted in higher numbers of applicants to teaching positions in the United States.
Merryn Dawborn-Gundlach, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education, spoke to Australian broadcaster ABC News about the "unprecedented" four-day week as a potential solution to the hiring crisis.
"I did work at a school myself, an independent school, where they did have the four-day week, and that worked really well," she told ABC. "And I believe that if you were going to bring this in, that it would have to be justified by saying, well look, this is developing independence and skills that will hold the students in good stead for (future) courses ... or for whatever they want to do.”
Still, she added, the four-day week alone would not solve the problem of the education system.
What French teachers want
The changes at Wodzisław Śląski in Poland may have been inspired by experiments of the public school system in France, which has had “non-traditional” school time since the passage of the Peillon reform in 2013, according to the Le Parisien daily. The city of Paris has reduced school hours on Tuesday and Friday afternoons, from 3:30-5:00 p.m., when students have the option either to go home, or to participate in extracurricular activities offered for free by the city.
80% of teachers wanted to return to the four-day week.
Other French cities, including Lille, Marseille, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, have opted to return to a true “four day” week, where the full day Wednesday, rather than Tuesday and Friday afternoons, are dedicated to extracurricular enrichment activities for students. And in Seine-Saint Denis, a suburb outside of Paris, nine out of ten schools opted to return to the four-day week, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.
Aside from costs and benefits for students, proponents of the measure cited surveys of teachers, 80% of whom wished to return to the four-day week, rather than the previous four-and-a-half, citing that a free Wednesday would provide them with the opportunity to “take a step back from their work.”
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