It's usual to complain about the summer vacation. Everyone knows that it's too long and too expensive. But there is one additional and significant cost of that long vacation, of which not everyone is aware: The damage it causes to children's educational achievements.
Comprehensive studies have demonstrated that, during the course of the summer vacation, children and teenagers fall behind in their educational level by the equivalent of an entire month of studies. Children from families with a low socioeconomic background suffer from the negative influence of the vacation more than children from a high socioeconomic background. After all, the effect of a computer camp is different from that of six hours a day in front of the television. And the fact is that children whose parents cannot afford to invest in their progress during the summer are liable to fall behind by as much as two months in terms of the knowledge and abilities they acquired in school during the year.
It's important to understand that this is a pit that never fills up. In other words, every year the educational deficit grows by at least one month, so that, in effect, at the end of elementary school the level of the students is almost an entire year behind what it should be. So why isn't the summer vacation shortened significantly (and not only by five days, as has now been decided )?
Shmuel Slavin, chairman of the committee to examine the structure of the school year, said in an interview with Or Kashti (Haaretz, November 3, 2010 ) that when he investigated the historical origins of the summer vacation, he learned that in the 19th century they took the children to work in the fields, to help with the harvest. Today, as anyone with children knows, they don't exactly help their parents at work. And the truth is that today, it's hard for us to understand the idea that the purpose of the vacation is for children to do something useful. The children's right to a vacation is seen by many as a basic right. They have to "let off steam" as they're under "so much pressure."
But are those really legitimate reasons to dedicate most of the summer to air-conditioned consumerism at home or in the mall? Are the children's lives so difficult that they need such a long vacation? We may have reservations about competitive worldviews like that of the Chinese Tiger Mother, whose daughters have white knuckles from practicing piano, but there is at least one unexploited month of summer between those two extremes.
The best solution is for the school system is to offer the students a chance to participate in an educational framework during part of the summer, during which enjoyable activities will be combined with strengthening abilities and knowledge - or even to require them to do so. If such frameworks were common and subsidized by the state, we can reasonably assume that even parents who at the moment feel sorry for their children, would register them for such activities. Until then, closing the gaps caused by summer is in the hands of parents, grandparents and the various summer babysitters.
Of course, it's hard to expect tense and busy parents to sit with the children in the heat of July and August and fill out workbooks. But maybe if we understand what we are endangering, we will manage to find the patience and to turn off the television. The day camps can pick up the gauntlet, too. Naturally, solving math problems is somewhat less attractive to children than screaming themselves hoarse at the swimming pool, but in the final analysis, in a place where the consumer receives true value, the suitable marketing angle will be found.
Israel is trying to deal with a distressingly low level of education. We are trying to change teaching methods, to raise the teachers' salaries, to teach values. But devoting half of the summer vacation to studies, enrichment and maintaining learning achievements is the best way to minimize the damage and to return to the routine.