By Amol Arora
“Why do schools start early?” This is one common question every one of us would have asked someone or wondered about at some point in our lives. Watching parents standing at the bus stop to send off their little kids to schools in wee hours during winters when the whole world is sleeping, is a merciless sight. Most of us couldn’t have waited for the day when school life would end so that there would be no compulsion of waking up at unearthly hours.
A study published in the 2017 journal Sleep Health revealed that children who start schooling before 8.30 am can barely meet the minimum amount of sleep required for their bodies, that is eight to 10 hours. This lack of sleep especially during smoggy winter mornings can result in withdrawal among the children. Moreover, the concept of early morning school hours put more pressure on their sleep process. Sarmishtha, a marketing professional, whose eight-year-old daughter goes to school every day at 7.30 am, has to wake her up at 6.30 am to that she is ready on time for her school bus. Sarmishtha now complains that due to just five to six hours of sleep, her daughter lacks concentration while studying most of the times and her grades are also going down gradually.
Sarmistha along with other new-age parents want the management of schools starting early, to reconsider their timings that can accustom with the lifestyle of the children who have working parents. After all, it becomes a struggle for them to find reliable childcare centres for their kids before and after school so they can align the school day and their regular day at work. While schools in 45 states of the USA have started showing empathy towards the kids by already pushing their start times back to fall in line with the biological clock of the students, the situation in India is a little bit conflicting.
With kids coming home early, they are exposed to unlimited screen-time options in the absence of their working parents and getting transported to multiple coaching institutes throughout the rest of the day. This puts their physical health at risk. However, if the schools extend their ending time as the office working hours, it will only result in limiting the hours in a day for the kids to focus on both their studies and physical activities. By the end of the day, they will only get drained tremendously.
Changing a school’s start time involves a wide array of people — parents, teachers, students, principals, school boards, among others. The impact is felt at a community level. In our country, the concept of reorienting the school hours to align it with the realities of the working parents has not yet been acknowledged by school authorities in many states. The management and teachers within the school ecosystem are happy in their existing state of affairs. They have a set way of life and as they continue spending years in the sector, they don’t want to change this lifestyle. Moreover, they also want to reach home by the time their children are.
Urban city planners favour early school timings because they believe that if the hours clash with the office end-timings, there will be more chaos on the road. They also feel that since the buildings heat up during the peak hour of the day, which is around 3 pm, children should reach home before that. Unfortunately, such reasons still not justify in putting either primary pupils or teenagers through such outrageous timings. That said, it is neither a good idea to start early and nor it is a better solution to end the school hours aligning with the adult working hours.
While the parents are constantly struggling to balance their busy work routine with their children’s school schedule, school authorities in India must also start working towards plugging this gap and be more empathetic towards the kids and the teenagers. After all, a meagre amount of sleep cannot fulfil their physical requirements.
While it is evident that moving the bell time can be one major step in the bigger picture to ensure that the kids get an ample amount of sleep they need. It will not increase the hours in a day. The deal-breaker is to reap maximum advantage of the after-school hours. Schools authorities can contribute by introducing full-day child-centered curriculum where apart from imparting quality education to students, they can also facilitate exceptional co-curricular activities. This can make the after-school hours more productive and well-managed. The extended school hours will not only give parents freedom from multiple pick-ups and drops throughout the day but will conveniently match the office timings of parents. This futuristic approach to education will eventually let the working parents spend quality time with their children during the evening, thereby making way for their overall growth and development.
(The writer is Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Shemford Group of Futuristic Schools. Views are personal.)