By Setareh Behroozi

Reinventing the wheel: Altering school breaks

January 8, 2018

The consistent air pollution disrupting the lives of citizens of metropolises in Iran during recent months has made officials to reappraise the idea of altering academic calendar for schools in some parts of the country.

Last week, chief of the department of environment Isa Kalantari proposed one-month break in late autumn and early winter for Tehran and northern cities to “ward off students from air pollution”.

He proposed the implementation of the break from December 6 to January 5 in lieu of opening the school year in early September.

School year normally starts in late September in Iran and ends in mid-June and is followed by a long three-month summer holiday. Of course alteration may happen depending on each school, their curriculum and the students’ grade.

Over the past three years, environment officials have been mulling over the idea of implementation of cold weather vacation for students.

Does it really ‘ward off students from air pollution’?

As mentioned above, Kalantari considers break in cold season as a way to enhance students’ health during air pollution days.

As a matter of fact, students live with their families and in most cases, especially in metropolitans, their parents earns life through small businesses or employment.

A long vacation, which has no overlap with public holidays, make parents perplexed with children who are bored with staying at home for several days without any recreation.

School break during cold season does not sound a weird thing in many countries around the world. Nevertheless in most countries it is simultaneous with Christmas vacation, which is not considered neither national nor religious holiday in Iran.

Moreover, students who used to attend school on a definite schedule, turn into disorganized citizens who increase traffic in the city engulfed with air pollution.

Officials should not disregard student as a part of family who live in metropolitans. There is no solution for rescuing our children from air pollution so long as radical changes makes in general policies. 

A snowy day in Azna, Lorestan Province, western Iran

Tehran is not Iran

Unlike many parts of the world in which all policymakers live in the capital, Iran is not limited to Tehran and some metropolises.

Iran is a big country with a wide range of climate, biome and even tribes. Hence a collective decision cannot be made for all parts of the country.

While Tehraners suffer from air pollution in winter, people living in southern coast of the Caspian Sea enjoy rainy days with mild cold weather. However Iranians in northwestern provinces feel biting cold in some days of winter.

Considering all these elements, there is a need to implement separate calendar for each region, which is a time-consuming task requiring several working groups who are aware of economic and environmental characteristic of the region.

In addition, the lack of harmony in one-month gap amid the academic year may also lead to further problems including national exams or even syllabus.

Vacation in middle of academic year, an interval in learning   

The break may lead to many changes in family lives. Sleeping arrangements can easily upend family harmony and who can satisfy a schoolchildren to review lessons while the schools are closed?

Educational experts and teachers point out these problems many times about altering academic calendar.

It is more serious for elementary school children especially those who are at grade one.

Some programs should be considered for students who are away from their lessons one month amid the academic year.

Otherwise, it turns into a major problem for student families and teachers as well.

 Altering academic calendar does not solve air pollution

Air pollution in big cities like Tehran has many different origins. Petrol-powered cars and carbureted motorcycles are amongst main culprit of the pollution in the city.

However, the number of people who migrate to Tehran from other cities to metropolitan, lack of practical traffic control plans and development of public transportation infrastructures can be named as some reasons, which make breathing hard in Tehran.

Children breathe toxic air wherever they are in this polluted city, even if they stay at home, nothing would change, as we witness during recent years.

Such an ad hoc proposals, seems to be short-term remedy for a serious problem, which needs more attention of officials.

Children breathe toxic air wherever they are in this polluted city, even if they stay at home, nothing would change. Ad hoc proposals, seems to be short-term remedy for a serious problem, which needs more attention of officials.

The proposal mainly discussed vacation during cold season as schools are closed due to choking smog which normally engulfs metropolises and the capital forcing the officials to shut down schools.

The negative aspects of long three-month summer holiday in Iran has been discussed many times by education experts but they have not arrived at any clear consensus yet.

Though the calendar proposed by Kalantari lead to shortening of summer holiday for students, this is not the reason for what he proposed.

Altering school calendar is a crucial decision, which impacts the students in all corners of the country.

Makeshift solution

Many metropolitans in the world struggle with air pollution problems and the vacation in cold season is common in many parts of the world as well.

In addition to Christmas holiday, many countries has some additional vacation during the academic year as well.

As it is mentioned in a report in The Telegraph, Chinese schools in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei, which consistently top the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) world ranking tables, have summer holidays of approximately one month, and Chinese pupils often spend their breaks attending additional classes or studying for exams. 

Students in the United States only attend school on average 180 days a year, and in the UK for 190 days, compared with an OECD average of 195 days, and 208 days in East Asian countries.

In the UK, independent schools traditionally have longer holidays and a shorter school year than their state counterparts, but evidence suggests that more affluent families take advantage of time off school to enrich learning. 

Using the experience of other countries and use those in our own context help us to avoid going through trials and error for solving the problem.

Implementation of vacation in cold season or shutting down schools is a kind of sedative for us. What we need is a sustainable development to enjoy the city we live in.

PHOTO: Students of a school in Iranian northwestern city Tabriz urge clean air in a rally on December 24, 2017

SB/MQ/MG

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