School calendar, better a shorter summer break

School calendar, better a shorter summer break

School calendar

Summer learning loss is not a new problem, it is a phenomenon that has been studied since 1906. Scientific studies show that during the summer period students' learning is not only at risk of stagnation but even regresses

Photo Jess Bailey on Unsplash Among the many dysfunctions of the school system is that of the short-term controversy. A tradition that has been going through scholastic controversy since the time of Giovanni Gentile and that not even a pandemic has managed to scratch. In recent months we have been concerned almost exclusively with how to get back to class, but the time that the pandemic has stolen from students in these two years we have not been concerned enough.

How we learn, how much we learn and why we learn does not seem to interest anyone. The important thing is a school wrapped in the eternal present and in the eternal presence.

In July, after the presentation of the results of the Invalsi tests, everyone commented on the loss of learning of our students. Everyone had something to say, but just long enough for a tweet. To date, it seems that being back in attendance has magically solved the problem of the decline in learning.

According to the recent report of the Agnelli Foundation in ten years the situation of our middle school has not improved, territorial gaps and social inequalities have increased, learning is unsatisfactory and teaching remains the traditional one. Invalsi tells us that the implicit dispersion in these two years has increased from 7% to 9.5%. This means that 9.5% of Italian students have obtained a high school diploma with basic skills expected at the latest at the end of the first two years, if not at the end of the first cycle of education (middle). In the South the situation is even more serious: in Calabria the implicit dispersion is 22.4% in Campania it is 20.1% and in Sicily it stands at 16.5%.

In their analyzes Save The Children, Openpolis, UNESCO, Invalsi, Fondazione Agnelli and OECD all agree on one thing: the students who suffered most from distance learning were those from disadvantaged socio-economic and cultural backgrounds .

There are those who would have needed more time, then. A time designed specifically for those who have remained behind in these two years. The affectionate school of which Minister Bianchi has often spoken about the Summer Plan does not exist in the face of the loss of learning. If you live in a disadvantaged environment, the school, as it is, is not affectionate, it leaves you behind and if you get lost it doesn't even come looking for you.

The loss of learning is almost a constant for those living in a disadvantaged condition but the educational gap widens and strengthens every summer. Summer learning loss is not a new problem, it is a phenomenon that has been studied since 1906. Scientific studies show that during the summer the learning of students is not only at risk of stagnation but even regresses. This is especially the case for students who come from poorer and poorly educated families.

Not too long ago, school finished in May and resumed in October. The wheat cycle followed to allow everyone, even the children of the peasants, to attend classes.

Well, in 2021 our school calendar still follows the wheat cycle. It concentrates most of the vacation days during the summer period (12 weeks for all school orders) and does not include breaks in autumn or May, as do other states, where school and vacation periods are better balanced.

For example in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark the summer holidays last 6 weeks while in France the lessons stop every 6/7 weeks for almost 15 days.

According to the "tap theory" (Entwisle, Alexander and Olson) low-income students learn less during the summer than higher-income students. If during the school year the "resource tap" remains open for everyone, regardless of the socio-economic conditions of the families of origin, during the summer the flow of resources slows down for students living in disadvantaged conditions. Those born in an economically advantageous context continue to have access to financial resources or human capital that come directly from the family, such as parents' education.

Summer learning loss analysis: What is it, and what can we do about it? conducted by M. Quinn and Polikoff found that student scores fell during the one-month summer vacation. According to a study conducted in the Netherlands, even a relatively short break (six weeks) leads to a significant loss in student learning.

The scientific literature has been analyzing the problem of the "summer slide" for a long time and there is a substantial amount of evidence to support this phenomenon but in our country talking about the loss of learning or reshaping the school calendar remains a taboo .

Summer learning loss must be taken into consideration by political decision-makers and those involved in school policies, otherwise any attempt to smooth out the performance gaps between rich and poor children will be in vain.

More breaks could be introduced during the school year, thus reducing the summer break while keeping the total number of class days fixed. Summer learning loss has a cumulative effect on future outcomes, exacerbates students' social and educational gaps thus increasing the likelihood of school dropout. It also involves a burden of work for the teacher who, once back in the classroom, will have to re-teach what has not been learned. Evidence presented to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger in the UK suggests it takes up to 6 weeks to re-teach what was forgotten over the summer.

Simply reducing the length of the summer break can almost certainly not guarantee that the loss of summer learning will be avoided. However, after a shorter summer break this loss may decrease. Certainly other factors must be taken into consideration such as the quality of time, only when the time is used more effectively will it be possible to have better learning results for everyone. But this is another matter.

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