The Summer Slide


Greetings from The Progressive Teacher

Rita Wilson
Rita Wilson

There is a lot of excitement in schools as the much awaited summer vacation is closing in. Students, teachers, school administrators – all look forward to this time in the year.

Summer vacation is a time of rest, relaxation, and refreshment. It is a time when students get a break from the constant pressure of school and homework. During the summer, students become more creative and expand their social horizons. They read books ‘for fun’. They get to spend quality time with friends and family. There is no denying that students and teachers love the summer vacation.

Although the summer vacation is remembered with fondness, some policy makers argue that summer vacation is counterproductive and should give in to a longer school-year. In the summer, students forget what they learned throughout the year, a phenomenon which has come to be known as the Summer Slide. The summer slide is blamed especially for putting children behind and widening the achievement gap. Students who are slow learners have no choice but to take summer classes if they do not want to be left behind. The Delhi government is launching ‘Mission Buniyaad’ during the summer vacation to arrest the learning crisis in students of government and municipal schools.

American author, David Von Drehle in The Case Against Summer Vacation argues that although summertime is symbolic for liberty and creativity, when it comes to ‘competing with children around the world, who are in many cases spending four weeks longer in school each year, larking through summer is a luxury we can’t afford.’ Although summer vacation affects all students, Von Drehle says that summer vacation takes an especially dreadful toll on children from low-income families who cannot afford ‘healthy summer stimulation’ such as summer camps and tutors. In fact, standardized test scores are lower on average after summer as opposed to before, and students often lose weeks or even months of progress.

Summer-learning expert Harris Cooper of the Duke University, USA, has concluded that, on average, all students lose about a month of progress in math skills each summer, while low-income students slip as many as three months in reading comprehension, compared with middle-income students.

Although standardized marks may suffer immediately following summer vacation, education should not only be about standardized tests and marks. Education also involves unstructured learning and enrichment. During the summer, students have the opportunity to learn ‘naturally’ through different experiences. Summer is a time of exploration, when children are free to pursue interests without being told to do so. A simple activity like a hike can teach a child more about the world than any class could. According to psychologists a lack of vacation or regular rest can lead to chronic stress, which affects the body’s ability to resist infection and maintain vital functions. When we are less rested we tend to be more irritable, depressed, and anxious. Our memory suffers and we make poorer decisions. In other words, rest is essential if we wish to function properly and effectively as human beings. It has been suggested that we decrease ‘cerebral congestion’, that is empty our minds of clutter so that we may become more attentive and more productive.

For students as well as teachers, summer vacation is the ultimate escape from school-related stress. A successful vacation leaves them feeling ready to take on the world once more.

Please do let me know your take on the Summer Slide – have you encountered it in your classroom or is it just a myth. It will be interesting to carry this discussion forward as it will help us all, help our students more.

The theme for the July/August issue of The Progressive Teacher will be Classroom Dynamics. I am sure you will be able to find time during the summer vacation to collect your thoughts and send them to be published in The Progressive Teacher. I await your views on Classroom Dynamics

With best wishes
Rita Wilson

Rita Wilson has over 40 years of rich experience as educationist including over 30 years of experience in school leadership positions. She is the former Chief Executive and Secretary Council for the ICSE, New Delhi.
She is a consultant to a number of corporate houses and educational institutions. She is serving as a Member of the Board of Governors/Managing Committees of some of the most prestigious schools and colleges of the country.
She has vast exposure to the education systems of Japan, Germany, England, Thailand, Singapore, Sharjah, Dubai and Finland. She has initiated, conducted and organised workshops for school teachers and principals all over India
With a B.A. (Hons) English Literature, M.A., M.Phil. (English Literature), B.Ed. to her credit, she has edited three series of English readers and work-books for school children.