Mr Kemp NZ

How much time should students spend at school?

Following up from the honor of being selected in Huffington Posts Top 12 Global Education Blogs of 2014-2017 I have been chosen again in this amazing group and for 2018 will be contributing to Huffington Post’s Education blog once a month. This month we look at the following highly controversial topic “How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year”? – here is my response:

6 hours, 7 hours, 8 hours or more? How much time do your students spend at school each day? More importantly how much time do they spend in academic facilities learning each day? How much is too much? Let’s explore …

Image Source:

As schools in the Northern Hemisphere open their doors for a new academic year, students and parents have very diverse feelings about getting back into the swing of things. Exploring hours of direct instruction is an interesting starting point for this discussion.

Image Source: OECD

This graphic shows the amount of instruction time in several countries around the world with the red triangle showing the compulsory instruction hours in each and a break down of how much time is dedicated to each subject area. The OECD average is 5 hours of instruction time a day. Where does your country sit and how is learning impacted?

In Finland, students start school at the age of 7 and spend 5 hours a day in school.

In South Korea,  students start school at the age of 6 and spend 7 hours a day in school. Children often attend after-school tutoring which can go through until midnight in some cases.

In New Zealand, students start school at the age of 5 and spend 6 hours a day in school.

In China, students start school at the age of 6 and spend up to 9 hours a day in school plus after-school activities and tutoring.

So the question is, does this positively or negatively impact student learning and how long should K-12 students be spending at school?

Here are my thoughts about what I think works well (based on my experiences) and adds maximum value to student learning:

  • Time is not important – the quality of learning and experiences is important
  • Time per day should vary depending on age as follows (in my opinion):
    • 4-7-year-olds – 3-4 hours and almost entirely play-based experiences
    • 8-12-year-olds – 5-6 hours
    • 13-18-year-olds – 6-8 hours with start times adjusted to better suit learning needs (e.g. later start time)
  • After school tutoring should be limited and real-life experiences such as sports, adventure activities and PLAYING should be expected and encouraged
  • I love the layout of the NZ and Australia school year – 8-10 week blocks of learning, 4 times a year with 2-week breaks mid-year, 4-5 week summer break and 3-4 week winter break.

Skeptics of longer school days point out that high-achieving nations such as Finland, Singapore, and China have chosen not to add more instruction time, opting instead for maximising learning and collaboration time during the traditional schedule.

I am curious to hear your perspective on this as well – how many hours do your students attend school? What works and doesn’t in your experience and how can schools add more value to student learning? Please share!

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Global EdTech Consultant based in Singapore but working with Schools and EdTech companies all over the world. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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