The four-day school week
The other day my six-year-old son said something which summarised the time-related challenges of parenting.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a cutesy anecdote designed to land me a spot on The Morning Show. But it contained an idea which would make life easier for every Australian parent who feels like they spend half their life either dropping the kids off or picking them up, and trying both to do their jobs and run their domestic lives in the space between.
It would take pressure off workplaces struggling to provide flexibility for time-poor parents. It might also help address the modern scourge of childhood obesity by creating more time for kids to exercise, and give them a chance to do interesting non-traditional learning in addition to the three Rs.
My son was off sick on Tuesday so we dropped his sister off at school then headed home. A few hours later we were back in the car. “We were just here Dad,” he said, and then asked why school always finishes at 3.15.
Talk to any parent about how they juggle their time and the one thing they invariably raise about is the shortness of the gap between school beginning and school finishing. It comes around so fast that you can feel like a rat on a wheel.
In my job managing newspapers and websites over the past seven years, I have seen heaps of staff struggle with the requirements of having school-aged kids, and have also done so myself. In the newsrooms many staff – almost always women – have ended up working the equivalent of a three-day or four-day week where they start at a normal or slightly later time but leave early to get their kids from school, doing a five-hour or six-hour day.
The problem for them – and their bosses – is that they often feel like they are struggling to devote the required time to a project, and no sooner start something that they have to leave again, and end up trying to catch up at home when the kids are finally asleep. Where possible it has always seemed preferable for parents to work a few full days than make an appearance on all five and duck out early.
The fact that the school week runs from Monday to Friday in almost every country on earth does not strike me as a reason to keep it that way. If the school week ran Monday to Thursday, with school starting at 9am and finishing at 5pm, the only day which would present a work-life challenge for most parents would be Friday. This could be addressed by running an expanded school after care program on Fridays, to offset the hours those businesses would lose on Monday to Thursday.
The school day could be changed either to give kids a longer lunchtime which included a daily component of physical education, or alternately, the last hour of the day could be sport. Friday after-care could be tied in somehow to the school curriculum, where the kids could go on excursions related to whatever they were studying at the time.
The downsides might be fatigue for the kids during a longer day, and reduced chances for them to play with their mates after school. They might actually end up learning more though. Until recently Chicago had the shortest school days in the United States but now has one of the longest at 7.5 hours, and kids’ marks have improved dramatically.
Working mothers would benefit from it too. It would give fathers less of an excuse not to take more of a role in the school pick-up. By giving mums the chance to put in a full shift rather then vanishing mid-arvo, it would help many women get further in their careers.
Without dismissing the role of blokey culture in stopping talented women from getting ahead, the simple fact is that the less you are in the office the less likely you are to catch the boss’s eye for promotion. Anyway, it’s something to discuss around the barbecue when we’re talking about how frazzled we are.
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