How to avoid those hazy days of summer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 June, 2013, 10:45am

“Go to any French supermarket and you will be greeted by a stand ‘Passport to ...’ On sale are a range of manuals of varying quality, depth and rigour. What they all have in common is that they offer students of all ages a link between the grade they are leaving behind and the one they are about to enter,” says educator Rachael Desgouttes.

This is a cultural tradition in France, she explains. “Students are not expected to self-learn material not covered in class. The function of these books is more simple – to keep their brains ticking.”

Desgouttes’ concern about preventing a summer brain drain, as learning loss associated with the long break is often called, is also personal; she has two teenage children.

A meta-analysis of 39 studies, conducted since 1978, found that in the absence of school, almost all students score lower on standardised math tests at the end of the summer, compared to their performance on the same tests at the beginning of summer.

The general learning loss that occurs during the summer months was most acute in factual and procedural learning. Because procedural learning involves the acquisition of a skill through repeated performance and practice, it is easy to understand why students lose computational skills over the summer break.

Substantial differences were also found in reading and language scores between middle and lower-class students after the summer holidays. While middle-class students showed a nonsignificant gain in reading scores, lower-class students showed a significant loss, that represented a gap of about three months of reading skills between middle and lower-class students

There are several lines of thought regarding sending students to summer schools, which have become a thriving ancillary educational industry.

Firstly, comes the question “Is the inability to recall even a problem in today’s world where information can be accessed with such great ease?” Don’t students need a break from routine and rigour to refresh for the next academic year?

“As a mother, I can honestly say that as up to nine weeks of holiday stretch ahead, there are going to be times when children are bored,” Des Gouttes says. “Kids like to be to be entertained and challenged and, although this time is primarily about recharging batteries and having some good, old-fashioned outdoor fun and family time, there will be periods of boredom. This may be slopping on a sofa, watching excessive TV or playing one video game too many.

So, as students begin to pack their rucksacks, perhaps a few activities could be thrown in to combat boredom and allow for minimal summer brain drain.

Before the academic year comes to a close students could brush up on areas, such as maths, ICT or physics, that they found difficult because they hone procedural skills. Embarking on summer holidays armed with practice sheets will reinforce those topics and strengthen understanding.

What books are going to be studied in literature? They can be borrowed or bought from students who have just completed that grade and will provide good companionship on the couch over summer.

I especially encourage students to make a folder containing concurrent areas of research, relating to topics they have studied in biology.

Students taking the IB or IGCSE Diploma could make copies of the syllabus for subjects they have undertaken. Careful reading of topics, the internal assessment criteria, exam formats and requirements, will allow for a smooth transition when school starts in September. “An overview of the year to come is welcome,” Desgouttes says. “Students know their strengths and weaknesses. They should follow the [French] lead and fill their own gaps. As they get older, this becomes even more relevant, and when changing systems – as many schools in Hong Kong do between IGCSEs and IB – it is critical.”

Of course, presentation of this material is critical. Youngsters need something that is engaging and can use multi-media creatively. What we need is communication to join the dots between students and their study, whether it’s through films, quizzes, websites, sound bites, creative projects and, of course, parents, says Des Gouttes.

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School