If time-wasting were in the curriculum, schools would excel at it

After-school or holiday classes wouldn’t be necessary if regular, scheduled time for teaching and learning were put to good use

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Mike Montgomery 30/04/2024 - 15:34

Good day Professor Jansen,

Your recent article about time wasted at schools echoes similar issues I had to battle at a local school.

After retiring from a successful career as a mathematician in the corporate world, I was asked to join the school as a mathematics teacher. (There was the initial shock at seeing what teachers earn, but that is a separate issue. Or is it?) Your article talks about “the slow march to classrooms between periods”, but a fuller description of this problem is that there is no “between periods.” The next period starts at the same time that the previous one ends, so even with the best intentions in the world it is impossible for students or teachers to get to the next room on time. An additional and unfortunate consequence of this scheduling (which I tried unsuccessfully to have changed) is that students are subtly taught that there is no need to be on time. This is the opposite of what they will need to know in just about every career they are likely to enter.

When not employed as a full time staff member I was often called on to provide after-hours help for students struggling with mathematics. No sooner had such lessons started when it would be interrupted by a message that the following students be excused for sports practise or for rehearsal for the school play. This often happened during the regular school day too. Although I understand the need for the holistic development of students, it is clear that academic skills are at the low end of the priority scale. It is inconceivable that a teacher could ever ask that a student be excused from sports practise to attend an extra mathematics lesson. (The school involved markets itself as a school of specialisation in mathematics.)

Related to the various forms of time wasting is the dedication of current teachers relative to what I remember from 1964 when I started in Grade 1. At the time there were not enough schools in my community (at the rough end of the Apartheid system). The solution was for schools in the area to run a morning session and an afternoon session. After teaching the morning session, the same teachers would then teach the afternoon session to a second batch of students. Along with this came double the administration, e.g. double the marking. My father was a teacher since before then until his retirement, but I do not know if teachers were paid double for this double work. I wonder how today’s teachers and unions would respond to this as a solution to the shortage of schools.


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