UAE: Schools urge students to avoid 'learning regression' over winter holidays

Pupils enjoy a nearly three-week-long winter break with schools reopening on January 2

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Nandini Sircar

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Published: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 3:07 PM

School heads in the UAE are advising pupils not to slip into “learning regression” as students continue to enjoy a long winter break.

Principals explain that recharging one’s batteries is a well-earned rest from study and is imperative but spending the entire stretch relaxing could put students at a disadvantage when they return to school in January.

Meanwhile, research by the American Educational Research Association reveals that children might experience a decline of up to 40 per cent in the progress they have achieved during school breaks.

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It’s said these declines are sharper for subjects like math than for reading, and the extent of loss is usually greater at higher grade levels.

Math and reading

Vicky Martin, Head of Primary, GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, said, “'Learning regression’ generally refers to a phenomenon where students lose some of their academic skills or knowledge over a long break. This could be especially true if the student isn’t engaging in educational activities during the break.”

Headteachers explain that the impact of these breaks on learning can vary widely from student to student, depending on factors such as the student’s age, the subject matter, the student’s engagement with learning activities during the break, and the support they receive at home.

“Learning loss can occur across all subjects and grades, but research has shown it is most noticeable in mathematics and reading, and the impact tends to increase as students get older,” he added.

Educators explain reading skills can also decline over long breaks, “particularly for younger students who are still in the process of acquiring foundational literacy skills. For older students who already have strong reading skills, the impact may be less, although their vocabulary acquisition rate may slow down if they are not reading regularly.”

Younger children, particularly those in elementary school, often have more structured activities and more parental involvement in their learning, which can help mitigate learning loss.

“These children are acquiring foundational skills in reading and mathematics, and any interruption can be detrimental. Middle school and high school students are learning more complex material and are more likely to forget information over time if they do not repeatedly practice or use it,” Martin continued.

Holiday homework

Certain schools are in favour of assigning tasks during holidays to keep students’ mental faculties active, so that they don’t draw a blank when they return from their break.

Abhilasha Singh, principal, Shining Star International, said, “As educators, we are aware that long holidays can cause a setback in skills previously learned or mastered by the child. The students in the absence of a stimulus forget what they had learned and need to practice continuing mastering that skill. A simple example is math which needs a lot of practice and even sports. Research proves that 15 days of inactivity can affect an athlete’s endurance. That's the reason teachers love giving holiday homework.”

Read, play educational games

Experts also emphasise any form of mental stimulation supports strengthening neural pathways and therefore reducing learning regression.

Chandini Misra, Principal of Repton Al Barsha, said, “Incorporating reading, numeracy, and languages into daily tasks or games is far more likely to stick than to reach for the textbooks or worksheets, especially with younger children. Encouraging students to read regularly, solve puzzles, play educational games, and explore areas of personal interest can help maintain cognitive abilities and prevent substantial learning loss during the break.”

‘Out-of-school, world learnings’

Veteran educators highlight that working on a few questions related to school subjects during the holidays can be useful to keep things ‘ticking along’, but holidays are a chance for broader out-of-school, world learnings.

This approach leads to opportunities for enrichment, contrary to the notion that learning is confined solely to school-related activities.

Simon Herbert, Head of School/CEO, GEMS International School – Al Khail, said, “Much can be gained during a long school holiday. Students are encouraged to read regularly in the holidays, from a variety of sources chosen by them, to enjoy conversation with parents and other adults, to travel, to absorb, and to reflect. In this way, there is learning gained – not lost. Life experiences can be so valuable in putting our learning into context and making it real.”

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