3-hour homeschool days or 12-hour Chinese school days – Which is best for our children?

3-hour homeschool days or 12-hour Chinese school days – Which is best for our children?

A state school in Hampshire is the focus of a BBC documentary Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School. They’re experimenting with dropping in Chinese teachers, uniform, longer school days, and classroom culture.

This prompted me to think about the differences between a 12-hour school day and the other end of the spectrum – a 3-hour day that is not uncommon for many of our privately tutored students. Somewhere in the middle of that lies British state and independent schools, whose academic records fall in the mediocre middle ground.


3-hour homeschool days

The main benefit of private tuition is that pupils get unfettered access to their educator. One-on-one tuition ensures that the child’s natural interests are leveraged and their weaknesses explored. Continuous dialogue between the pupil and the teacher that ensures topics are fully understood before moving to the next, and the child remains engaged throughout.

Often, our tutors cover more with their pupils in three hours than a school in the US or the UK will cover in a whole day, which leaves the rest of the day free for reflection, hobbies, excursions or socialising.

Once you take away all the moving between lessons at school, packing up and settling down, break and lunchtimes, PE lessons, registration, assemblies and more, there’s only about 4 hours of real teaching time in the day. Factor on top travelling to school and homework in the evening, and it’s no wonder some kids are tired, unmotivated, and not reaching their full potential.

We tutored one girl in Georgia, US, in the UK curriculum every day for just 2.5-3.5 hours, with no homework. She left high school with 9 A-grades at IGCSE, and 3 A- or A*s at A-Level. She went on to Harvard University. It’s not unusual, but a typical example of how focused teaching and one-to-one learning can achieve great results.


12-hour Chinese-style school days

The head teacher of the Hampshire school doing the Chinese experiment reported that at first the children were disengaged, playing up, and chatting to friends instead of listening to their teachers. But, he says, over time, some pupils said they preferred the Chinese style of teaching: “They liked having to copy “stuff” from the board as they thought this would help them remember it. Some more able pupils also liked the lecture style of the Chinese classroom.“

It’s at odds with the experience of one pupil, who said, “The Chinese teachers think the pupils in their classes are like bulletproof sponges, sucking in information yet conveniently ignoring the fact they are tired and very bored.”

It’s clearly not a foolproof experiment. But from my own experience, I can say that the size of the class is not what produces the best results, but appropriate ability-streaming. The length of the school day is not what is important, but the quality of the interaction between the teacher and the pupils during that time.

Shanghai Province tops the Pisa tables, which attempt to measure the standards of education in schools globally, and there is clearly a reason – or several reasons – for that. But don’t forget that Chinese culture, their family life, heritage, values and traditions, all affect academic performance.

British children would probably implode at first if they had to suddenly cope with 12-hour school days, but they’d get used to it, and teachers and pupils would no doubt find ways to make the best of it. There’s no way of knowing if a longer school day will propel the UK to the top of the Pisa charts, but I would hazard a guess that a better use of time, better teacher-pupil interaction, and streaming by ability within those 12 hours would improve our standards of education more than just lengthening the school day.


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