Audit time management in our schools

Quality time wins over extra time

Clement Lambert

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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EverY so often we read about a public school being audited. Invariably, this is a financial audit. After serving for decades as an educator, I have Identified one area that deserves far more scrutiny in schools and that is the use of our children's time. If one agrees with the adage that “time is money”, it is fair to conclude that our schools are haemorrhaging a tidy sum daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

I am not an advocate of extending the school year or the length of the school day. How the time in the existing school calendar is used deserves urgent scrutiny and remediation.

A day [or week] for everything?

Over the years the commemorative days have grown exponentially. There is Jamaica Day, boys' day, girls' day, Teachers' Day, movie day, to name a few. If that were not enough commemorative weeks have also emerged Career Week, revision week, test week(s), report week (where parents collect their children's report). On the surface these are wonderful innovations in which schools, either on their own or by national edict, pause to bring attention to important themes in our society. What befuddles me is the length of these pauses in our schools.

In my mind, a special assembly or class presentations that are curriculum-related but with these themes in mind would suffice. However, as one parent puts it “school mash up” (meaning normal teaching learning activities are totally disrupted) on these commemorative days. For example, on boys' day girls do not attend school and regular teaching does not occur for that day. Then there is girls' day at which time boys get the day off. Another point worth noting is that the day before there are disruptions for preparation and the day after there are disruptions for recuperation.

Recently, Jamaica Day was been heralded for the wonderful success it has been in our schools. On that day, regular curricular matters are brushed aside also. The outpouring of love and appreciation (both planned and spontaneous) for our country is heartening. It is always good to engender appreciation for our country, but do we need to set aside an entire day to do so? For many of us committed to service to country, every day is Jamaica Day.

Jamaica is known for its athletic achievements. We often attribute this success to the sports programmes in schools from early childhood to high school. I am not sure that more school days allocated to competition is a prudent move. Leading up to sports day some schools give half day off (usually after lunch) for up to two weeks to practise for sports day. Recently, I have witnessed sports day in many of our schools blossom into sports days. Even our primary schools are setting aside two and, in extreme cases, three days for sports competition. Classes are not held on any of those days. This gives rise to the question: Are these non-teaching days sanctioned by the Ministry of Education or can schools arbitrarily set aside days for these activities as they deem fit?

All in a day's work

A time audit is long overdue for the use of time during the regular school day. The bell to bell model (which advocates maximising instructional time) has never been espoused in Jamaica. On a typical school day in many of our schools valuable time is taken up with needless classroom administrative activities: roll call, extended devotions, collecting lunch money, sending down the numbers, collecting extra lessons money, stopping to sell pencils and books, to name a few. While there has been tremendous advancement in technology and the way we do things, these activities have been a constant in our classrooms over the decades.

As if this waste of time on needless administrative work was not enough, the use of instructional time needs attention. Invariably time is wasted by lack of proper planning for instruction. An observational visit to a primary school classroom stands out in my mind. The teacher assigned a single writing task as the final activity at the end of the lesson. Students who were more proficient completed the work and were moving around. The teacher sternly said, “Those of you who are finished put your heads on the desk until the others are done.” What a difference it would make if instructional planning had accounted for these learners' proficiency and needs.

Is extra time the solution?

Calls have been made by education leaders to extend the length of time students spend in school. The immediate past minister of education and past permanent secretary both declared their hands that adding time to the school year might be a good idea. The current Administration has promoted the view and has initiated policy to allow students with “special learning needs” to spend more years in secondary schools. It seems that our policymakers are of the view that an extended period of schooling would lead to improved academic performance. However, what happens during students' time in school is far more important than spending extra time there.

Many past students attest to the view that quality instruction and efficient time management is more important than how long they spend within the walls of a school. My university students relate their learning experiences and describe their best teachers. They normally describe the teachers' content knowledge, caring disposition and prudent use of time as qualities they admired. Their descriptions of poor teachers always came down to the point that they wasted a lot of time in that class. It is fair to conclude that attention to what happens during the time spent in the classroom should supersede the emphasis on extra time in school.

Time for change

If we are serious about changing the achievement landscape nationally, use of time in schools needs urgent attention. It is not only the length of time that is spent in school that matters, but what is done during that time. I suggest the commissioning of a study that systematically inquires and documents the use of time in our schools with a view to implement recommendations that ensure that instructional time is prioritised over other activities.

I believe that schools can have as many commemorative days as they deem necessary. I am also quite aware that a wholesome school environment transcends the explicit curriculum. However, commemorations should be accommodated around the schools' curricular mandates and not cause a halt to regular teaching learning activities. Perhaps, we need a think tank with major stakeholders to create a workable model for this.

How much time is lost through a bloated commemorative school calendar and poor time management during regular school days? Enough to grab the attention of concerned stakeholders. It is time to address the use of time in our schools. Quality time normally wins over extra time.

Dr Clement T M Lambert is a lecturer in language arts education at The University of the West Indies, as well as a researcher and consultant. Send comments to the Observer or

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