The notion that an extension of the academic year will improve student outcomes has always found favour with successive governments. This extension premise of the school year is groundless both in research and in common sense and some might argue is only discussed to appease parents many of whom already believe teachers benefit from too much holidays. The supporters of this extension of the school year are misguided and are unacquainted with current research. However, there is now empirical evidence which clearly debunk the reasoning for an extension of the academic year. Notwithstanding the emerging research one’s common sense should dictate that in an era of climate change and global warming when temperatures continue to increase undoubtedly this will negatively impact both students learning outcome as well as how teachers are able to impart knowledge. According to research from Harvard University, in years with hotter weather students are more likely to perform less favourably in examinations. Obviously, there is an association between higher temperatures and lower student outcomes. We are all well aware of how hot it becomes especially in July and August. The majority of classrooms in Jamaican schools are not air-conditioned, in fact some are poorly ventilated and there are many instances where not even a fan is present. Jamaica relative position in the world is located at 18 degrees north and 77 degrees west. The heat is unbearable. These less than favourably conditions make any teaching and learning experience most miserable during the summer months. Researchers from Harvard, The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and Georgia State University have produced the first clear evidence that when temperatures go up, school performance decrease. The study published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found that students were more likely to have lower scores in years with high temperatures and better results in cooler years. The study “Heat and Learning” suggested that hotter weather made it more difficult to study in lessons in school and to concentrate on homework out of school. Interestingly, researchers calculated that for every 0.55C increase in average temperature over the year, there was a 1 per cent fall in learning. The US based research analyzed test scores of 10 million secondary school students over 13 years and concluded that hot weather negatively impacted students’ learning.
Many of us are now familiar with the term global warming. Global warming is describes a gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and its oceans. Climate change and global warming are not myths. The international community of mankind continues to experience these environmental impacts daily so much so that in 2015 a historic event took place in an attempt to curtail the impact of climate change.
The Paris Agreement
On December 12, 2015 a historic agreement to combat climate change was signed in Paris, France by 195 countries including Jamaica. The Paris Agreement sees signatory countries working towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future. The foundation of the Paris Agreement is to keep a global temperature this century below 2 degrees Celsius as well as to encourage efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It is important to note that the Paris Agreement and the outcomes of the UN Climate Conference address five critical pillars. These are Mitigation which seeks to reduce emission to achieve the temperature goal. The establishment of a transparency system and global stock is the second pillar. The third support seeks to strengthen the abilities of countries to deal with climate impacts. The fourth pillar seeks to strengthen the ability of states to recover from climate impacts. The fifth supports addresses finance for nations to build clean and resilient futures.
Our students are exhausted by the end of June. Students by that time would have sat both internal and external examinations having studied all year. It bares thought what value would be added to the life of the student by having school going beyond the historical and traditional close of the academic year?
In the absence of not having any local research regarding the impact of heat disruption on the performance of students we should look at the available external research to guide our policies. However, it would be useful for our local researchers to conduct a study on the impact of heat on teaching and learning. In Jamaica the academic usually ends in the first week of July but there are those who are working overtime to have this extended until the end of July. We need to reject an extension of the school year merely to add more days. What will be achieved in practical terms for such an extension? Many parents as well as educators will argue that our students have enough stress to maneuver during the school year and therefore they do not need another layer. There are more pressing issues to address in our education system, the lack of accountability of our school administrators, the large class sizes and the inadequate space for students with special needs are just a few. While this might not be news to everyone the public ought to aware that teachers are on call during the summer holidays. In fact the Jamaica Teaching Council usually has a number of courses on offer during the summer break for teachers. There are professional courses and workshops which many teachers attend during the summer. Additionally, some teachers also are markers for local and regional examinations. We need to take heed of the research which clearly tells us that the summer is not ideal to be testing students since students are more likely to receive lower exam scores as the years become hotter. We should not fix that which is not broken, instead we ought to look at the cracks in the system and address those. In the words of Aristotle, it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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