There are many debatable subjects when it comes to education. Yet, one of the most controversial is whether shorter school days benefit kids. Why should school be shorter? How can it influence academic results? What are the downsides in the long run? These are only a few questions that arise when discussing the shortened day at school.
Still, the truth is that we have many more answers than we might think. There is extensive research on a subject done globally. So, do shorter school days affect students’ performance negatively? Today, we’ll summarize the available data to give a complete perspective on how fewer school hours can influence kids, parents, and teachers.
##How Do Shorter School Days Influence Academic Results Globally?
According to the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), kids in the US, on average, spend 180 days at school per year for around 6.8 hours daily. It is somewhat of a middle ground between most other developed countries.
Estonia, for example, has shorter school days. Estonian students spend 6 school hours daily for around 175 days a year. In contrast, South Korea has the opposite situation where kids have 220 school days for 8 hours every day.
Yet, we can only see the effectiveness of any approach when comparing the academic results and the school hours. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has a program called PISA that assesses 15-year-old students' knowledge and skills globally. You can check the full research, but we’ve selected some countries in the table below to make it more digestible. It is the latest available study released in 2019. OECD performs this assessment every 3 years, but the organization postponed its 2021 and 2024 research because of the pandemic.
Note: For the sake of clarity, we excluded the results for mainland China as the study only evaluates four regions (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang). And even the paper's authors say that “these four provinces in eastern China are far from representing China as a whole.”
Data source: PISA Insights and Interpretations
Why Should School Days Be Shorter?
To understand why school should be shorter or not, let’s analyze the data we’ve seen. Singapore is one of the most representative examples. Based on the PISA assessment, it is an undeniable leader in academic performance. Does this mean that kids there spend a larger amount of time at school? Not at all. Singapore has shorter school days (5.5 hours/day) than most countries, including the US (6.8 hours/day). Still, the number of days students study is slightly higher than in American schools – 193 days compared to 180 days in the US.
This example shows us that shorter days in terms of daily school hours positively affect the students’ performance. Yet, fewer days spent at school yearly don’t seem to have a similar impact. And this trend extends to other countries as well. Finland, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand prioritize shorter school days. Why does it happen?
Study Time vs. Students’ Performance
A part of the answer to why school should be shorter lies in the students’ attention span. It is much lower than many might think. In fact, phycologists believe that first graders can focus on one task without distraction for no more than 5-7 minutes. Even the ‘ideal’ attention span for kids this age is 15-18 minutes at most.
Another element we have to consider is how effective full-time studying is. Does the number of school hours play a big role in students’ performance? It turns out that time matters only until a certain point. In fact, scientists discovered that when children study one subject for more than 10 hours a week, there is no significant difference in kids’ academic results compared to 5-10 hours of study time. So, more isn’t always better.
Besides, we shouldn't forget the importance of motivating children to learn and discover new things. Being overwhelmed by a full day of school might leave students tired and indifferent, affecting their academic results in the long run.
Pros & Cons of Shortened Days at School
Shorter school days don’t only influence kids. In one way or another, they also impact parents and teachers. That’s why let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of shorter days at school from every angle.
Benefits of Shorter School Days
There are many reasons why school time should be shorter, including the following advantages:
More time for extracurricular activities. School subjects are essential. Still, discovering new hobbies has numerous benefits for the kids. Everything from sports and music to learning coding allows children to get new skills, meet friends, and enrich their personalities.
Better concentration. Shorter days give students an opportunity to concentrate better, as human attention span is limited.
More hours of sleep and reduced stress. When kids have spare time, they can use it to get more rest, which is crucial for brain development.
Lower costs. The larger the amount of time students spend at school, the more financing it requires to cover teachers' salaries and infrastructure maintenance.
More preparation time for teachers. Longer school days put more pressure on teachers, leaving them less time to plan engaging lessons and restore their energy. That’s why shorter school days allow them to create a more positive environment for kids to study.
Opportunities for additional academic classes. Many kids either want to learn other subjects or need extra tutoring for schoolwork. More free time after lessons helps children to pursue this intention.
Downsides of Shorter School Days
On the other hand, there are several drawbacks to shortened days at school, such as:
Less guided practice. One of the biggest advantages of offline full-time learning is that kids get more instructional time from teachers whenever they need it. This allows them to avoid unnecessary mistakes and learn faster. Yet, shorter school days might result in a smaller amount of time teachers can spend with every kid.
More pressure on parents. If children have shorter school days, parents have to come up with other activities for their free time. When both of them work, they have to arrange after-school activities or childcare. This requires an additional budget, which creates more financial burdens for families.
Less teacher-student interactions. Creating a productive and trusting environment takes time. That’s why shortened days might not be sufficient to develop and foster respectful relationships between kids and their teachers.
Less time to build strong friendships. The same issue might happen with school friends. A full day of school can give more opportunities for children to bond with their classmates.