Give them a break!
In the US some schools have done away with breaks in the school day. Could it happen here?
Peanut butter sarmies, splashing each other at the water fountains, and ad hoc games of cricket in the playground. Break is as much a part of the traditional school day as “Good Morning, Mrs Teacher!”

I was surprised to learn that some schools in the United States have done away with break altogether, in an effort to cram in more learning time. Now a study quoted on News24 shows that children aged 8 and 9, who have even a short break, behave better in the classroom. Well, duh!

In South Africa, the School Governing Body decides the exact start and end times of the school day, but must make provision for breaks during that time. 

“The 'breaks' must be on the programme in order to provide learners with exactly that, a ‘break' from academics,” says Mike Kessel of the Governing Body Foundation. “It surely stands to logic that the learner cannot concentrate fully without such breaks. They also play an important part in the socialising process for children. It is in this environment that they learn to interact with their
peers something which they obviously cannot do to the same extent in the formal classroom situation. The only thing that could be up for debate would be the number and the time allowed for breaks.

“As things stand the 'breaks' are mandatory as set out by the Education Department and permission would be needed for any variation. Obviously such requests would have to be motivated,” Mike says.

The US story also includes the rather sad detail that some schools can’t let their learners out for recess because of the dangerous area in which they go to school. That image of children imprisoned in their classes by a dangerous environment is scarily close to home, considering the gang violence that some South African schools have had to face.

Ways have been found to get around this problem, explains Nariman Khan, Western Cape Director of the Safe Schools programme. “We would never suggest that a learner does not take a break. We have made a lot of progress on this since 2001.”

A pilot project in 60 high risk schools uses CCTV cameras to enable the school office and community safety volunteers to monitor the area more easily. This will be assessed after 18 months and rolled out to more schools if found to be effective.

Among the other Safe Schools strategies implemented are:
  • Community safety monitors who patrol around high risk schools.
  • A high alert system which informs schools of problems in their area.
  • A system of siren alerts which inform learners when to return to their classrooms urgently.

All this is aimed at keeping learners safe in school so they can concentrate on learning and, yes, having a break from time to time.

Do you think break is important, or should school children concentrate on learning while at school?

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