In Canada most public schools begin in early September and conclude at the end of June. The year is generally organized to include two hundred school days, with one hundred and eighty-five of them having students in contact with teachers. The balance of the school year is designed to provide teachers with in-service opportunities to improve teaching skills. A two-week Christmas break, a spring break, and a number of holidays are scattered throughout the school year.
This school year format has been around in North America from the earliest days of public education. It was originally designed to take into account the agrarian society where nearly two thirds of all Canadian families made their living.
Recently several school boards have reexamined the reasons for continuing the “traditional” school year. Several factors have been taken into the examination of the school year and have resulted in a number of Alberta school boards adopting a year round school year for some of their schools.
A major reason for this reconsideration has been the realization that skills and knowledge can be lost the longer one is away from the environment that supports the development of skills and the use of knowledge gained. We have known for quite some time that athletes improve the more they use the skills they have learned. This has resulted in athletes attending sport camps during the summer and some athletes deciding to concentrate on one sport throughout the year.
Too often teachers need to spend the first four to six weeks of the new school year reviewing the material from the previous school year. This is particularly true with students that have learning difficulties.
This is the prime reason for examining the school year along with the realization that currently the majority of students no longer live on the farm but in urban centers. The need for them to be away from school to help with planting, haying, and harvesting is no longer the strong consideration it once was.
Another reason for the examination of the school year is economic. This is two fold. The first and more obvious is the use of the building. Why do we allow a multi-million dollar complex sit idle for two months of the year?
The other factor has been the pressure of summer holidays. As our society has seen the trend of both parents working full time it has become more difficult to arrange family holidays during a limited eight weeks of time. If parents could arrange their holidays in the fall, skiing season, or early spring it would open up the opportunities for all family members having a similar break and relieve the pressure on businesses trying to accommodate all their employees with summer holidays. It would also provide a year round cliental to the tourist and recreation industries.
These factors have led to a number of Alberta schools moving in the direction of year round schools. C.B McMurdo School in Wetaskiwin was among the first to adopted year round programming in Alberta in 1999. Students and staff have indicated an improvement in attendance, school morale, and attitude in learning. Meanwhile parents have indicated that the year round schedule is a better fit for their work schedules and lifestyles.
The Alberta and Canadian education system are among the strongest systems in the world as we have been ranked in the top five in the world in science, mathematics and language arts for several years. In 2010 only Finland and South Korea ranked higher.
Will we see an increase in year round schools? That possibility will depend on how well parents are willing to accept the change and if research continues to support the educational benefits to students.