Longer School Year Not a Panacea

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), March 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

Longer School Year Not a Panacea


Byline: Sriram Kh For The Register-Guard

Like most people in these United States, I believe that our public school system, and our higher education system as well, needs continuous overhauls to ensure that our youth will have fantastic futures.

Therefore, I followed with immense interest President Obama's recent speech on education; I liked many aspects of it. However, I am not quite in agreement with the president's observation that one way to get our children ready for a productive and engaged life is by lengthening the school year.

Obama compared our academic calendar with South Korea's, noting, "Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea - every year. That's no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy."

A longer school year is not a necessary condition for success in the 21st century. It was not even a good model for the 20th century, which is when I was a student in a school system that has some of the longest school years.

As I look back at my childhood, it seems as though I was always in school. In the southern part of India, where I grew up, the academic year began in early June, and we had classes six days a week. It was a huge reward when we had the second Saturday of every month off - and, boy, did we look forward to that two-day weekend!

School ended in mid-April, in time for the peak summer heat, when we kids then spent our time climbing the mango and tamarind trees and playing cricket and football, darkening our already naturally tanned complexions.

Yes, the school system graduated quite a few successful students. But then, in a country with a population of more than a billion now, even a small percentage translates to hundreds of thousands of successes.

Later in life, as a parent here in America, I was excited by the educational system that my daughter went through - in a public school. I would have way preferred to be a student here than in India. And it was not at all because of the five-day school week or because of the long vacations.

I was blown away by a number of wonderful aspects of schooling here: from "learning by doing" to physical education to arts and music to student government. In contrast, I went through a system that emphasized learning by rote, not learning by doing. Music and the arts had only token representation in the curriculum, and we certainly did not learn civic responsibility through student government. …

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