The main thing is not to act hastily

The suggestion of moving schools to six-day attendance has become the subject of dispute

The suggestion of moving schools to six-day attendance has become the subject of dispute. Each side has their own arguments.
The suggestion of moving schools to six-day attendance has become the subject of dispute. Each side has their own arguments.

Yekaterina Denisenko teaches mathematics and informatics in 5 ‘A’ form at Minsk’s secondary school #181

On the one hand, there is a need to reform the system of education. The results of centralised testing on ‘exact’ sciences this year shocked even those who usually show no interest in educational issues. But can the introduction of a ‘working’ Saturday save the situation? The six-day week for schools in Belarus was officially stopped in 2008. Nevertheless, there appeared at the same time the advice that children should do something on Saturday such as sports or attending cultural events. Many schools have organised optional classes for senior pupils, but an extra full-time working day is a different and significant change.

Almost all parents are against the idea. For example, Yekaterina Popovich’s two children study at school in the sixth and tenth forms, she asks, “Why does the number of working hours need to increase, when already, after the fifth form, children have six daily lessons plus optional classes? If it is the first shift, then children are at school from early morning until 4pm. After that, theoretically speaking, they may take one hour to get home, and then it is necessary to eat. At nearly 6pm they sit down to do their homework. These tasks are not insignificant, and usually take myself and my daughter between two to three hours to complete. My eldest daughter does her homework alone, but on Saturdays we have two private tutors for physics and chemistry. She has practically no rest.”

The Deputy Chairman of the Permanent Commission of the House of Representatives for the National Assembly on Education, Culture and Science, Marat Zhilinsky, expressed his views on the issue from both sides, as a father whose child went into the first form this year, and as an official. “It seems to me that the introduction of six-day attendance makes sense unless the student is in a graduation class when there is an intense amount of preparation for entering university. As for other children, it is necessary to consider several factors. For example, the five-day week as a system is already well established, changes in many respects may affect family relations. Weekends are the only two days when a child can stay at home. As a rule, on Saturdays, parents try to take their children to sports clubs, hobby groups, or they go to the country. Would this policy benefit children’s health, particularly if their rest period will be effectively reduced by one day? In Russia, doctors have already raised the alarm about the increased overloading of children during a six-day working week and its effects on the nervous system of children (stress and neuroses now being quite commonplace), while constant sitting behind a school desk and table is bad for the musculoskeletal system, scoliosis is becoming almost an occupational disease of being a pupil. Our neighbours are now returning to a five-day working week, although they allow the educational institutions themselves some say in how they organise their time, after discussion with the parents. This may be a good model for us; the question could be brought for public discussion on the Internet forums and in the press. Of course, there must always be the condition that the basic curriculum must be covered fully over the year.

If I were to make the choice as a father, I would prefer to keep a five-day week, but probably also reduce the holidays (both in summer and at other times). The situation in our country is unique as the academic year lasts for an unusually short length of time, only 165 days. We are the only country in the world with three-month long summer holidays. It would probably be better to balance out the timetable and to make the academic year closer to the European ‘standard’ of approximately 200 days. Certainly updating is needed, but it is important to understand that this will take some time to work out. Education is too important to make hasty and ill-considered decisions.”

By Olga Bebenina
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