Cape Town-140531- With a chill in the Blouberg air, Locals accompanied by their friends, family or pets, enjoy the icy fresh beach air, while the sun gently kisses the earth, as winter announces its arrival. Photo: Ross Jansen

Cape Town - A demand for longer school holidays has been labelled as “harmful” to pupils by the Department of Basic Education.

A proposal to have vacations for school teachers and students lengthened was discussed by the SA Democratic Teachers Union last week.

General secretary Mungwena Maluleke complained that holidays had been scaled back year-on-year since 2010.

He said teachers spent most of the school holidays marking pupils’ work, and weekends preparing for the week’s lessons, leaving them with little time to spend with their families or to unwind.

“Where we come from we did not have to work until December 13 only for schools to reopen on January 7 the following year. This is a matter that you need to debate.”

Maluleke was speaking at the union’s provincial conference in Durban on Wednesday.

But Department of Basic Education spokesman Terence Khala said the idea of longer holidays could not be entertained.

“Any time spent away from the presently allocated 200 days of learning and teaching is harmful to the gains made in ensuring appropriate time is spent on the task of teaching and learning.”

As it stands the school calendar year starts on January 15 and ends on December 10.

In that time teachers have a total of 48 days leave - including public holidays - which is around triple the number of average leave days employees in South Africa get. The average employee is entitled to around 15 working days’ paid leave a year.

Khala said the calendar had been settled on because it gave pupils sufficient time to work through their course loads. But he said it would not solely be up to his department on whether the calendar was adjusted. This responsibility belonged to the council of education ministers, and comprised the Basic Education minister and nine provincial MECs.

“They have been presented with a draft proposal to amend the policy governing the creation of school calendars,” said Khala. “They will make a decision once the provinces have reached an adequate consensus.”

Education expert Graeme Bloch said the current system - which since 2012 has sat at around 200 days of school a year - had yielded exceptional results, as evident in the increasing matric pass rate.

He said there was no good reason to move away from it.

The third international mathematics and science study, published in 2011, shows that countries with longer school years perform better in subjects such as maths and science.

The study tracked results in both subjects for grades 7 and 8 in various countries and ranked them in order of academic performance.

The results were telling, with South Korea - which has an average of 220 to 225 school days a year - topping the list. Other top performers included China and Japan which have 221 and 201 school days each year respectively.

Cape Argus