The characteristics of optimal education systems within a sustainable postcapitalist paradigm. Part five.

Should we be teaching teenagers at 9.00am?

Dr Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton Community High School, reflecting on research carried out on the sleep patterns of adolescents and young adults, states,

“Teenagers aren’t lazy. We’re depriving them of the sleep they need through purely biological factors beyond their control. This has a negative impact on their learning, and possibly on their mental and physical health…from the age of 10, our internal body clocks shift, so it’s good for young people to stay in bed. They peak at 20 then gradually go back again, but body clocks do not reach the pre-teenage level until around 55 years old. The ‘time shift’ is two hours on average, so teenagers should get up two hours later. We are making teenagers ratty by making them get up early”.


It is a biological fact that the majority of teenagers are programmed by mother-nature to need more sleep and that their patterns of sleep shift to make them go to bed and get up later. And yet how many educational institutions allow for this? Virtually none, despite the fact that this is completely evidence based. A system was set up whereby students all start studying at 9am regardless of their age, which was inherently inefficient simply because it was convenient to do so. Until age eleven or so a 9am start is reasonable, but from the onset of puberty we must consider than a start time of 10.30-11am from age 15-23 (or thereabouts) would be much more productive.

There is simply no point in having tired and grouchy teenagers in a classroom as they cannot study properly and they do not learn: Deep practice becomes substantially more difficult to facilitate. I’ve been there and done that, both as a student and a teacher. The adolescent brain is not properly rested nor is it properly switched on, both requisites to efficient and effective study and learning (i.e. deep practice), at 9am. Education needs quality teachers but it also needs to put the needs of the student / learner at the very centre of the system. It is imperative that all school / colleges / universities / RETS facilities in the sustainable system allow for all factors, whether they be biological or pedagogical, that allow for efficient teaching, learning and knowledge/skills acquisition.

For those institutions educating 14-23 year olds a 10.30-11.30 start to the teaching day should be an option to be considered with other classes in the early or late afternoon and the early or late evening or after midnight would depend on the institution and students. Negotiate mutually beneficial rules and contracts and I expect everyone would be happier, more effective and efficient. Their sleep patterns should improve as well. More people would enjoy their lives, stress would drop and happiness would flow like rain becoming a stream in a formerly dry river bed.

Sleep is a beautiful thing indeed. The demands of the modern economy has meant that far too many people had poor sleep patterns and were sleep deprived on a long term basis. Partly this is a skill that needs to be learnt, but stress and the pressures of money led many to sacrifice sleep to a rapacious and ugly system of organisation. A healthy respect for both sleep and dreaming must be values that all individuals carry in their heart and mind. Sufficient sleep is a prerequisite of both successful teaching and learning. Recognising this and acting upon it facilitates an efficiency gain for teachers, students and society at large. But don’t take my word for it; consider it; sleep on it; consider it some more; sleep on it some more and come to your own conclusions. Duermes con los angelitos!


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