It's a well-known truism that children (especially in a third-world country), who learn to read, write, add and subtract; provide a much better future for themselves. There can never be enough emphasis given to the importance of education, but even the best of medicines are best served in adequate beneficial dosages. Too much of a good thing may be harmful.

What happens if there's too much education forced down children's throats at an early age (with or without the horrific evil scourge of corporal punishment)? It's likely to create a bottleneck in their learning. There's no time for them to pursue other equally (or even more) important activities that fashion and mould their lives for the better. With the combined pressure of school and tutoring, there's very little time for children to actually experience being what they are, children.

School should be a place where both child and teacher want to be and where learning (and teaching) is fun and rewarding... a Jamuna Fun Park of sorts. Every day there should be something new to be absorbed... a new joy ride to enjoy... something happens that makes being at school all the worthwhile that a child (or teacher) doesn't want to miss.

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning that lasts an entire lifetime. The mediocre teacher tells robot style, can't explain, and makes learning lacklustre and boring.

Pupils learn best when happy

Children (and adults) learn best when they're happy, stress-free, and the lessons are delivered in a non-violent multicoloured fun environment!

Since launching my anti corporal punishment campaign in schools and madrasahs almost eight years ago, I've come into contact with many admirable and noble teachers in the city, suburbs and villages who have the best interests of their pupils at heart.

Over the years, these teachers have become accustomed to the five-and-a-half-day school week, but I have yet to meet a teacher who actually applauds or agrees with it. In these modern, advanced times, the five-and-a-half-day school week just doesn't make good sense and, in my opinion at least, is counter-productive.

I think the five-and-a-half-day school week is a family-size nuisance and detrimental to the advancement of child, family, and Bangladesh.

Why? It causes colossal unnecessary inconvenience and puts senseless strain on teachers, pupils, and their families who need a 48-hour meaningful break to unwind and refresh. The five-and-a-half-day school week just isn't worth the trouble and inconvenience.

The benefits of a five-and-a-half-day school week as opposed to a five-day week are none! In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Sure there is the need to go through the syllabus and provide for recovering days lost due to political activities by having extra classes at the weekend, if necessary.

A two-day free weekend, on the other hand is powerful, invigorating and beneficial. It gives both teachers and pupils alike, time for body and mind to relax, recuperate, and to be recharged in readiness for the following week. After all, life is like an orange and schooling is a mere segment.

In bygone years when there was a high illiteracy rate in Bangladesh, a five-and-a-half day school might have been justified... just might... but times have changed, Bangladesh has advanced and systems need to adjust accordingly.

Also being open for a half-day not only causes tremendous inconvenience, but also is NOT optimum utilization of school resources. It would be better to allow the school facilities to be used at the weekends for other socially beneficial purposes, such as foreign language classes, sewing/embroidery classes for poor women, exhibition/sale of local handicraft or sports/drama/musical activities, or even for extra-curricular activities of the keen students and teachers.

Teachers are no different to other government workers who work only five days a week. They, too, want to spend time and relax with their families and friends, participate in their children's activities, visit their in-laws in distant locations, pursue hobbies and interests and generally clear their minds of the daily hurdles they face trying to teach a classroom of 100 or more pupils. In fact, they most probably need (and deserve) the rest much, much more than the majority of other government workers.

Unsung Heroes

At present, six days a week, the unsung heroes of the nation take the school home with them, perch themselves in a corner to correct and grade papers and prepare the following day's lesson plans. Even when they're not in school, they're in school! They get to enjoy diminished quality time with their loved ones (and vice-versa) and this can - and does - manifest in frustration, stress and non-intentional corporal punishment of innocent children both in their homes and their classrooms.

With a two-day free weekend, teachers would get the time to leisurely buy their weekly groceries, attend to their domestic chores, visit friends, visit places and visit parents in distant locations. They would have sufficient free time from when they leave school on a Wednesday afternoon to when they return on a Saturday morning to do something worthwhile, beneficial, different and enjoyable in a fresh, relaxed state of mind.

Virtually, the two-day weekend would become a two-and-a-half-day weekend for both teachers and pupils. The chances are they would return to the classroom fully refreshed, fully charged, and in a happy state of mind that would spillover onto the pupils and generate an ideal fun/friendly atmosphere of mutual respect for learning. That can't be achieved if they're overworked, listless, lacking job satisfaction, frustrated, and pulling out their hair (or that of the pupils!).

Similarly, if children attend school only five days a week they would get to spend more time with their friends, family, visiting their grandparents, playing sports, travelling, relaxing and having fun. There would be more time to develop their minds, their sporting bodies, and broaden their education. Their attitude towards school and learning would be measurably more positive and less stressful. Be mindful of the adage, 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'.

With so much of his/her time demanded by school and tutorial activities, it is difficult for a child to enjoy the wonders of childhood nowadays and experience the magnificence and beauty of the greater world... the bigger picture. Childhood is a child's most precious destination they get to visit only once. Many adults would give all their wealth to experience it again.

There is little to no wisdom in attending school for a half-day, especially during the rainy season. It's something teachers and pupils do, but they totally resent it. Sitting for a half day in damp-soaked clothing, soggy school shoes, and feeling miserable is not conducive to good learning or good teaching.

Many children walk long distances and arrive home from school hungry, tired, stressed, and depressed because of the excessive amount of homework facing them, not to mention the ton of books they carry in both directions, which is ridiculous.

(Why heavy children's schoolbooks not produced in two equal parts with Part 2 only carried to school after the completion of Part 1 is beyond me... but that's another story.)

The pupils return to school the following day possibly with eyestrain, headaches, fatigued, stressed, grumpy, angry, and depressed from their late hours of study and then find it extremely difficult to pay attention in class to soak-in new information.

Who gains? - Burnout and stress are not conducive to good learning (or teaching).

An extra half-day away from school not only provides the opportunity for the mind, body and soul to recuperate and recharge, it gives older children the opportunity of doing part-time work, earning pocket money and making a valuable contribution to the family or performing family chores.

In summary, the five-and-a-half day school week has passed its use-by date and needs to be abolished. It lacks justification, imagination, and vision of what a person's life could be... what it should be... and screams for change. Overseas they're moving towards a four-day school week, but I don't think Bangladesh is quite ready for that, just yet.

Advancement in society always requires change, ridding itself of the old technology and adapting the new and moving forward with confidence and speed. Cylinder recordings... gramophone records...VHS videos... cassettes...cassette players... floppy discs... Fax machines... Tape recorders... all had expiry dates.

The same principle applies to how education is taught in our schools now. We can embrace the change, greet the new world, or lag behind and suffer the consequences.

What do you think, Education Minister Dr. Dipi Moni, MP? q

Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, a humanitarian, an award-winning thought-provoking writer, and a royal Goodwill Ambassador who has relentlessly campaigned for eight years to abolish corporal punishment in Bangladeshi schools and madrasahs.

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