It’s that time again!

It’s mid-August, and that usually means one thing: school is looming. The summer season – in Northern Hemisphere countries, at least – lasts until well into September. But if you ask anyone of school age, summer ends the day the school doors open.

It may surprise both students and their parents just how much school calendars vary around the world. Even within the U.S., start dates overwhelmingly are determined at the local district level, so neighboring towns can start on different days.  The majority of students in the U.S. – about 75% – start school before Labor Day, observed on the first Monday in September.

Some start long before Labor Day. Atlanta public schools began on August 7 this year.  Los Angeles public schools began instruction on August 13.

Atlanta also has a year-round option, which is a topic of increasing debate around the country. Proponents believe it alleviates the “summer slide” – the loss of learning that occurs during a three-month vacation gap. Opponents say it wreaks havoc with family calendars (especially those with children in multiple schools juggling different academic breaks) and that performance data supporting year-round school is inconclusive.

Despite the wide variety of start and end dates, the actual number of days in U.S. schools is fairly uniform. Most public schools require about 180 days of school each year. Of course, those in locations that experience winter weather typically have to build in snow days which, if exceeded, can extend the calendar at the end of the year to make up for days when the school is closed.

If some American children feel the school year is endless, consider the academic calendars elsewhere. In China, children go to school for 251 days. Japanese children go to school for 243 days, Koreans for 220 days, Israelis for 215 days, and Germans for 210 days.  The actual number of instruction hours can vary by student age, with young children in school for shorter periods than older ones.

For example, a typical Chinese elementary school student’s day begins at 0800 and ends at 1700, with a two-hour midday break. A middle school student’s day begins at 0700 and ends at 2100, with midday and dinner-time breaks. By the time a Chinese student is in high school, his or her day begins at 0700 and ends at 2300 with an “evening session” after a day that includes two breaks. [Source:  Yao Zhang, founder of Minds Abroad.]

So, while so many children are gearing up for school, maybe one lesson to be learned even before they hit the classroom is that there are many schools of thought about how students learn best!

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