The stereotype associated with Indian and other Asian children is that they are used to working hard in academics and that they are particularly good at maths and science. Indeed, Indian children do spend more time in school than those of many other nationalities. A class 8 student, for instance, was found to be spending 130 hours more in an academic year than his/her peers in OECD nations in 2014.
There is little research on the topic, though comparisons do exist. For instance, Finnish kids spend no more than three hours a week on homework and are also some of the brightest. Meanwhile kids in Singapore, also some of the smartest, spend 9.5 hour a week doing homework.
However, at a time when Indian children are spending anything between 4 and 10 hours in school, is there an ideal number of hours your child should be spending there?
Unfortunately, experts don’t seem to have a consensus on the minimum or maximum time a child should be clocking. However, they do provide important insights into the factors you must take into consideration.
Different ages, different requirements
Jayaprakash Gandhi, a career consultant based in Salem, Tamil Nadu, believes that while a child shouldn’t be spending over four hours in school until class 5, for senior secondary and secondary students, an eight-hour school day is ideal.
“This is because as the children get older, they are introduced to more complex concepts. Merely sitting in a classroom will not give them real-time understanding. The extra hours should be used for activity-based learning,” he explains. “But I’ve seen hardly one in 10 schools actually doing this.”
Jayaprakash also says that the children should return home by 5 pm at most, which gives them enough time to spend with their families, do recreational activities and get six to seven hours of sleep.
Vandhana, a Chennai-based clinical psychologist, holds a similar view. In her opinion, 8.30 am is a good time for a school to start. While kindergarten kids should ideally be off from school by 12 noon, older kids should be done by 3 pm.
“However, I have noticed that some schools now have shifts for kindergarteners. One batch will come at 8.30 am to leave by 12 noon, to be followed by a second batch who will subsequently leave around 4 pm. The kids coming in the latter batch may get used to that timing and that can create problems for them in the future,” she warns.
All work and no play make children dull
Prince Gajendra Babu, an educationalist, feels that it doesn’t matter how much time children spend at school, but it matters how they spend it.
“At all ages, a day needs to have time designated to academics, playtime and homework. You also have to take into the account the fact that school hours are no longer the only time that students spend studying. After school they have to do a lot of homework and increasingly tuitions as well,” he points out.
Gajendra explains that you have to consider a child’s workload and if/how it is cutting into the time for rejuvenation like reading, playing and socialising.
Indeed, an Assocham study in 2012 found that kids were clocking in more time at school than adults did at office!
DS Rawat, Assocham Secretary General, had told the media then, “Overall, for children, the day is spent in school, travelling, doing project work at home, watching television or sleeping. A majority of kids spend eight to 10 hours in school, two hours attending to homework, over an hour travelling to and from school, two to three hours in extra tuition, and about eight hours sleeping. As a result, they are left with less than 20 minutes to play. These statistics are sad and shocking.”
“And if the school wishes to decrease school hours but give more homework, it also has the same effect,” Gajendra states.
Mangai, a theatre person and academic, has learnt from her experience with college children that students should not be spending their entire school time sitting in a classroom. “I have noticed that something like a theatre workshop, even if it’s in the middle of the day, helps rejuvenate the students. They should have similar breaks and activities in the day, where they can move around and just use their limbs,” she asserts.
Vandhana agrees. “Schools need to ensure that their students are physically more active in whatever time they are spending there. Cutting down on co-curriculars when children don’t perform academically will not help – the child’s mind will still be in playing and he/she won’t internalise anything,” she argues.
Increasing hours, shooting stress levels
Vandhana shares that she has an increasing number of children in class 10 and upwards coming to her clinic because they are just unable to cope with the stress.
“Many schools have training and extra classes for competitive exams right after school hours, increasing the overall time a child spends there. The workload is quite heavy. There’s no point blaming parents alone because they are only looking out for their children in an exceedingly competitive environment,” she says.
Mangai points out that this is a serious problem in schools. “Everyone wants to be the best but what if they’re not? Pushing kids into the rat race as early as possible won’t help them. And we’re seeing the effect – children as young as seven years old know the meaning of stress. They’re becoming brittle to the arbitrary rote learning and marking systems. This homogenisation where we want all the children to do the same things is a death knell for any education system,” she says.