School timetable – does it really work?

Almost every school I have seen in my life so far follows a “simple” timetable structure for its activities.

  1. Each day is divided into 8 “classes”, so 40 classes a week.
  2. Each “class” focusses on one subject and lasts for some 40 minutes.
  3. Almost immediately after one class, the next would begin. Unless there is a snack / lunch break coming up.

Students are required to generate interest for the subject being taught in the current class within minutes of its starting. They should pay total attention to whatever the teacher is teaching. 40 minutes later, they should learn to switch off their mind from the current subject and generate interest about the new subject. If they don’t manage to do that, the child  is labelled as someone having an “attention deficit disorder”. If not such a brutal tag, the child is atleast subjected to a interpretation – “this kiddo lacks focus or concentration”.

The child’s parents are called for a parent-teacher meeting; where the teacher assumes that he/she has the holy right & the moral authority to pass judgement. Parents, knowing no better, accept or in many cases deeply resist such tags doled out by the teachers to their child. Either way they are trying to either fix their child’s “attention-deficit-disorder” or come up with proof that the child doesnt have it. For the former, they are advised (by their teachers) on corrective measures that need to be taken at home if the “child should have a good future”. For the latter, the child is subjected to a sort of “reverse-interpretation” from the parent. The child is unconsciously groomed to prove that he/she doesnt have attention-deficit-disorder, which eventually is a kind of pressure to fit into the “40-minute-attention” mould.

Whats interesting is that these tags are given by teachers who teach the same subject to different sets of kids for 4-5 times in day. Its not as if we have a teacher who will teach Math for 40 minutes and then teach Chemistry for the next 40 and then teach Physics for the next 40 and so on. No. No. No. A single teacher typically teaches one subject (say Chemistry) to 4 separate groups of students and has a solid 40 minute break in between. Students have no such luxury.

I find this whole system extremely violent. I find the phenomenon of using timetable at school very violent. At the very least it is inconsistent with the way in which we would like our children (& ourselves too) to explore their world.

Perhaps a child is super caught up about biology right now. Shouldn’t he/she explore it more fully? Shouldn’t the teacher’s role be that of someone who is basically around providing a support structure than be an “imposing-know-it-all-so-learn-only-from-me-otherwise-I-will-judge-you” kind of person?

We __do__ need to drastically re-imagine our schools. Perhaps, instead of having 8 classes per day – should we have 1? Maybe thats a starting point? Maybe we should let the kid pick (at the beginning of the day) what he/she chooses to focus on? I am no educator. Neither have I thought through this issue fully enough to share a deep insight. So I am in no position to give gyan on how to run schools. I guess there are other educators out there who would have practical ideas for implementation, that doesnt kill a child’s ability to focus. I hope to explore some of those ideas.