Fri, Dec 01, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Give young students a break

Fatigue and exhaustion, both physical and psychological, not only plague the workplace in Taiwan, but also the classroom.

According to a chart compiled last year by Taoyuan City Councilor Wang Hao-yu (王浩宇) of the Green Party Taiwan, students in elementary, junior and senior-high schools are required to stay in school longer than their counterparts in other countries.

They have to stay in school for nine-and-a-half hours per day, from 7:30am to 5pm, compared with six hours for Japanese students (9am to 3pm) and 6.5 hours for both UK (9am to 3:30pm) and US (8:30am to 3pm) students.

That figure is only the tip of the iceberg, as Taiwanese students, especially those in private schools, are either required to stay at school for a few hours of the so-called “evening study session” or have to go to a cram school after official school hours.

Keeping children in school or cram schools for long hours gives usually anxious and controlling Taiwanese parents peace of mind, because it spares them the torture of having to wonder whether their children are off somewhere doing God-knows-what while they are at work.

People’s generally long working hours, coupled with the growing number of double-income families, are major reasons why previous calls for shortened school hours did not prevail.

Some parents have complained that a shortened school schedule would put them in a difficult position, as they would not be able to pick up their children, while others believe that it would undermine their children’s competitiveness.

However, a netizen recently submitted a petition to the National Development Council’s public policy participation platform to change the school hours for elementary, junior and senior-high students to between 9am and 3pm.

Sleep deprivation and a lack of free time to explore their interests are detrimental to children’s learning and development, they said.

The petition quickly received the 5,000 signatures required for a government agency to officially respond, renewing the debate about the feasibility of such a change in policy.

Most of those who have spoken against the proposal argue that reducing school hours would be a waste of time.

Such an argument is valid, given that many Taiwanese have to work long past the time when they are meant to clock out and can forget about getting off work earlier.

However, why should young students have to pay for the nation’s work ethic, which habitually dismisses people’s need for a healthy work-life balance and praises selfless sacrifice at work?

There might be a compromise to the problem.

While it is nearly impossible to shorten average working hours, the government could reduce the number of hours each day that students are required to sit still and be fed textbook knowledge.

An ideal alternative would be allowing students to engage in activities of their own choosing between 3pm and 5pm, whether it be sports or other hobbies. Those activities could either be offered by schools as electives, much like in colleges, or as freely accessible activities that do not require a long-term commitment.

Change is not only necessary for young students to maintain a healthy school-life balance; it is imperative in that it would allow them to discover earlier what they do and do not like.

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