It’s about time

Making enough money to meet my expenses and desires was a priority for me for many years. As time has passed, I’ve come to realize that it’s the actual element of time that matters now. That has lead me to ask some questions about how time is looked at in education.

Closeup of clock hands

When I was younger, I thought about money almost more than anything else. After all, I had student loans, a car and a house to pay for. I had a high need for money and few ways to accumulate it quickly enough to satisfy my seemingly endless needs and wants. Now that I am older, money problems have been more or less resolved, and I mostly think about time.

Time speeds by

When I was really young, I was aware of all the things I couldn’t do because I wasn’t yet old enough. I was impatient to grow up so that I could do the things that I saw others doing and that I, consequently, really wanted to do. Time seemed to pass so slowly as I looked forward. Now that I am older, I understand all the things I cannot do because I am, dare I say, too old. And now, time speeds by like a bullet train, and I wish that I could slow it down so that I could savor the exquisite moments of happiness that I experience.

Questions about time

I think about time from other perspectives as well, particularly as it relates to education and what we have come to accept as the norm. Almost everything in education relates to time, and I wonder why things are the way that they are. So here are some of the questions that I have about time.

• Why does schooling start at six years of age for North American children (and at five where there is kindergarten)? The Finns start school at seven. What do they know that others don’t? After all, Finnish children seem to catch up to those in North America and elsewhere who start at six, and they develop just fine.

• Why does schooling proceed with students of the same age batched together versus batching based on ability?

• Why is a school year somewhere around a thousand hours in the classroom when a work year is just over two thousand hours? Do students max out on the time that they can concentrate?

• Why does education follow a school-year pattern that was established when economies were largely agrarian? Children are no longer required in the fields to help their families.

• Why is a school day mostly broken up into 50-minute periods when many teachers and students feel as if they are just getting started when the period bell rings?

• Why does basic education take 12 years for all but the most unusual of students? What prevents it from being a shorter timeframe? Football has something called a hurry-up offense that allows teams to execute more in two minutes than in any comparable period of time in the game. Why can’t teams play hurry-up offense all the time (I do have some sense of why)? Apply that to schooling – why can’t school be completed in, say, 10 years?

• If research tells us that teenagers have a different body rhythm than younger children and adults, requiring more sleep and operating more effectively a little later in the day than most school days start, why do we ignore that in many school systems and force them to attend early?

Looking at time differently

I think you get the picture that the list of questions could be long. Education has been the way that it is for many, many years. Maybe it’s time that we discussed and debated these and other good questions rather than just accept the answers. If we started with a clean sheet of paper and good research data, how would we think about time in education differently?

And one last thing – time, as it turns out, is money.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.