Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in the process of passing a law where no high school would start before 10am, so that students get sufficient sleep. Taking a cue from this, child development specialists and educators in Mumbai have once again raked up the need to not start schools before 9am.
Most schools in Mumbai begin classes as early as 7.30am. This means students have to wake up by 5.30- 6am every day, which deprives them of the sleep they need to learn and stay healthy.
Experts say kids need at least nine to twelve hours of sleep but barely get six to seven because of early school. As a result, in a typical classroom, most children doze off during class hours and don’t really learn anything, complained educators.
Although many school said that they have kept afternoon shifts for primary students, psychologists said that teenagers also need adequate sleep as they go through puberty.
“Adolescents go through many hormonal changes and so they need more sleep than adults,” said Shalet Fernandes, a clinical psychologist.
Excessive sleep deprivation is also shown to cause exhaustion, frustration, anxiety, weight gain and hyper-tension, added doctors.
“Sleep deprivation is the biggest threat to physical and mental health,” said Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental paediatrician, New Horizons Development Centre, Goregaon. “It can decrease the cognitive and academic performance of students as learning gets converted to memory only during sleep.”
Educators suggested that the education department can adopt policies that will help schools in starting late. “Through school buses and admission policies, we can ensure that students attend schools close to their homes,” said Francis Joseph, education consultant from the School Leaders Network.
He added that the process will work only if the department develops a cluster of good schools in each neighbourhood.
“This way, the student population gets evenly distributed and schools won’t need to run in shifts,” he said.
In 2010, a clause was inserted in the draft rules of the Right to Education Act that primary schools shouldn’t start before 8am, but it was later removed as it was considered impractical for schools.
“In the past, schools followed the 9am to 4pm shift, which was ideal as it allowed students to get enough sleep before coming to class,” said Basanti Roy, former divisional secretary of the Maharashtra state board and convener of Shikshan Katta, an independent discussion group. “The government must think about framing legislation on these lines.”
School principals argued that they begin classes early to avoid rush hour traffic.
“Our students come to school from different parts of the city. We start school early because there is less traffic before 8am and the weather is comparatively pleasant,” said Meera Isaacs, principal, Cathedral and John Connon School, Fort.
Others cited space constraints. “I agree that children should get sufficient rest but right now we have too many students on our rolls and are forced to run double shifts,” said Father Gregory Noronha, manager, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School, Chembur, which begins at 7am.