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A travel education


A travel education


Padraig Burns

More and more parents are opting to take their children out of school to go on holidays. It can be as important an educational experience as staying at school.
LAST week’s revelation that more and more children are being taken out of school to allow them go on family holidays has stirred the debate about the value of the holidays to the child and the possible disruptive effect on the child and the classroom. What was surprising was that it has taken until now for the debate to surface, as anyone who has kept an eye on family holidaying patterns in the past ten years will testify to. It’s quite simple really: more families go on annual holidays together today and it’s significantly cheaper (depending on the destination, it’s not uncommon for the difference between the months to be so significant as to make the decision to go during school term a complete no-brainer) outside the peak months of July and August. Not all educationalists are against the trend, but it’s fair to say that most would prefer children to go on their holidays at times other than during school term. But, for the family that likes to holiday together, circumstances, particularly the not inconsequential one of cost, can dictate that there is little alternative other than to take their children out of school.
A parent of this writer’s acquaintance is adamant that children do not suffer any long-term damage to their educational development by missing some time from school to go on foreign holidays; quite the opposite in fact. Along with his wife and three children they have always taken their holidays, not always during school time, but whenever it most suited them as a family to travel.
“What’s wrong with visiting a foreign country, meeting and interacting with the people there, talking to them in their own language, visiting historic sites and museums, and taking part in exciting new activities? As far as I’m concerned that’s part and parcel of educating our children for life. School today is wonderful and changed an awful lot, but time away from a stuffy classroom in a different environment can only be positive for the child and I’ve never ever had any qualms about taking our children out of school for a break. I believe it’s a very healthy thing to do,’’ he said.
However, there can be no denying that taking children from school during term can have a disruptive effect on the classroom. A teacher of over 20 years’ experience believes that the worst time for disruption is when the school has returned from summer holidays.
“Actually, this time of the year is probably the least disruptive as most of the curriculum is covered. However, if there are children missing school in September it can disrupt the class, as the children have to try and catch up when they’re back in class. That means that the teacher has to go back over work that has already been covered. Taking a holiday during term time can mean that children miss important school time and coursework and it will be difficult for them to catch up later on.’’
Our parent disagrees and believes such a view is narrow-minded. “Do teachers really think that the only place children learn things is in a classroom? What would be wrong with giving school principals the discretion to allow children go on family holidays during school term provided they do a certain amount of educational activities while they’re there?
“They could be expected to write an essay on it, or give a talk on it in front of the class or something similar. There is no need for negativity on this issue at all. We should be delighted that our children are being exposed more and more to different experiences and nurturing that instead of trying to create a climate where it’s being discouraged. I can safely say, and I believe my children would agree, that their development has been enhanced no end by their experiences abroad,’’ he said.
Whatever about both sides of the argument, and no-one can deny that there are valid points on both sides of this particular coin, educational authorities are going to have to get used to having to deal with less than full classrooms, particularly during the months of May and September when the cost of holidaying abroad can be cheaper. Maybe, as was suggested above, teachers should embrace the trend and actively encourage children to use their experiences while on holiday to broaden their education, while simultaneously providing their classmates with an insight into what they got up to while away from school by getting them to talk about their experiences in front of the class.
We should hope that whatever direction this particular debate goes in, that it will avoid the trap of attempting to punish parents who bring their children away. Four years ago, a Minister for Education in the Government of our nearest neighbours, attempted to introduce a fine system to discourage the trend. It didn’t work there and it wouldn’t work here either.

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