How about flicking the sweat tests and flipping the school year?

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Australian high school classrooms are notoriously hot in summer months (Image via YouTube screenshot)

Noely Neate suggests a plan to make the school year not only easier on students, but also the wallets of Australian parents.

I know I normally whine about politics and when looking at education since there is a lot to whine about:

  • Well, there is if you are not privileged enough to attend a private school;
  • Or, if you think the most important thing about education is some stupid culture war, which is revved up anew up every single a time a Coalition government comes to power;
  • Don’t even start me on Gonski vs Gonski 2.0. SIGH! And...
  • I will do you all a favour and totally steer clear of the “chaplain” issue, as that discriminatory waste of taxpayer funds to rent-seeking God Squad groups, which has no place in secular state-run schools who desperately need funding for qualified professional counsellors to assist with serious issues like mental health problems resulting from bullying, family breakdown and more is a whole rant in itself. Okay, could not let go without a mini rant.

So I’m going to go for a positive, though maybe radical, non-political suggestion to improve our education system. A practical one. Changing the start and finish months of our school year.

My focus has always been on practicalities, not ideology, when it comes to education. I care about how kids cope at school, what they are learning, getting the best start in life. Which, face it, really does shape how the rest of your adult life plays out to a large degree.

Which is why this little gem in The Guardian caught my eye: ‘Students don't do so well in exams when it's hot — so is it time to overhaul the academic year?’. The article itself is a UK piece based on U.S. research, so would obviously not get any traction here in Australia for discussion, but it got me thinking we should be discussing this.

Hotter temperatures lead to worse grades, as found in a Harvard, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Georgia State University study and this is something we should be seriously thinking about in Australia, where, to be frank, we are intimately familiar with “hot”, LOL!

I might be getting old, but I still remember the stress of exams toward the end of the year, sitting there in the awful uniform that got scratchier the hotter it was, trying to remember what I stayed up late studying the night before, praying I would not mind blank and freeze up when those papers were tossed on our desks and the timer started. Admittedly, I did my schooling in Queensland, but most of the country gets pretty hot come summer.

The bonus from surviving those exams was you had quite a few weeks over summer coming up where you could either run riot under sprinklers, hang out at the public pool with friends or, if old enough, worked extra hours beyond the standard Thursday night, Saturday morning, which was the norm for schools kids back in the day.

Nowadays, life is very different for Australian families with school-age kids. Most families have both parents working, so kids are either looked after by friends and family or expensive school holiday programmes are utilised. It is not common anymore to have mum at home in the "housewife" role, like it was 40 years ago — particularly not once kids have started school nowadays.

For the older kids, most don’t even have part time jobs which morph into full time over summer holidays anymore either. Not because they are lazier or anything like that, they are just not available like they used to be due to the change in our modern working hours. We no longer have a society where the vast majority of jobs are full time and “casuals” – that is, teenagers – filled in that extra Saturday morning and Thursday night, which was outside the standard 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday working week.

As a parent – my daughter is now 24 – those summer holidays were always a bit of a nightmare. They are long, you are trying to keep the kid occupied, they are hot and expensive — so very expensive. And I’m not just talking the visits to the movies; you have Christmas there, too, which, for most families, almost always breaks the bank.

Then, just when that most expensive time of the year is almost over, you hit the back-to-school expenses, book lists, new uniforms and the dreaded new shoes. Not only are parents across the nation lamenting how much their kids have grown since last year, they are double checking – through scared, squinted eyes – the balances on their close-to-maxed out credit cards to see if they can squeeze just a bit more on there to kit out their kids properly for that first day back at school.

So taking into account there is ‘a “significant” link between hotter weather and lower achievement at school’ and summer being the biggest financial hit to most Australian families, why do we do it this way?

Instead of MPs wailing about the supposed lack of Judeo-Christian Western Civilization values in our schools or other versions of the waste of space “culture wars” our current Government loves to wage, with education and the indoctrination of our young always being on the hit list. How about we actually focus on one simple thing that would truly improve the quality of life for “working families” – Gawd, I despise that term – and change our school year?

Why not finish up and hold exams in winter?

This would obviously benefit our kids' test scores and, considering the state of most of our state schools, it is easier to stay warmer with extra clothes than try to focus in sweltering heat in classrooms that rarely have air conditioning? “Focus” being the operative word. The pressure on teenagers in their senior years can be horrible. We could at least take the literal sweat out of the sweat box situation they are in?

The other benefit would be splitting that expensive summer hit for parents.,

Due to public holidays around Christmas and the New Year, we would still have a two/three week school holiday break over summer and incur those ham and gifts from Santa costs, plus school holiday programme and entertainment expenses, though halving the holiday period itself would make it less stressful on the credit card.

Starting school in the middle of the year would mean those extra “start of school” expenses are not lumped in with the big summer ones? Hell, if you are lucky enough to be expecting a tax refund, well, those back to school shoes might not sit on the credit card too long either?

Radical, I know, to expect our government to make any sort of big leap in thinking that would have a positive practical impact on our lives — but why not?

It would be a win-win situation. A win for the kids at one of the most stressful times of their lives, and a win for parents and care givers when it comes to financial stress, or, as our Government likes to refer to it, “Cost of Living Pressures on Australian Working Families”. ARGH!

So, what are your thoughts on flipping the school year?

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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