How Summer Learning Loss Affects Students

Category: Ilm o Amal

If you are a teacher, you are probably familiar with the concept of learning loss in students during the summer break. In this month’s Ilm o Amal, TRC Staff looks at a research on summer learning loss and takes a look at possible solutions to this very real issue.

Whether you are a teacher or a student, you probably looked forward to your summer vacation and are not quite looking forward to going back to school. While the traditional summer break is a welcome relief from rigorous academic activities, it also brings with it its own share of problems, namely summer learning loss in students. Educated parents often understand this concept and try to do something about it. Wealthy and educated parents often enroll their children in summer activities, such as summer school, sports or reading programmes to counter the effects of the summer slide. However, the average child in Pakistan and indeed in other parts of the world is often deprived of such programmes, mainly for the lack of funds. Research on what is commonly referred to as ‘the summer slide’ conducted in the US threw up some alarming results. The study estimated that the average student loses about 2.6 months worth of knowledge during the summer break. This may not sound like too much, but when you break it down, it comes to a child losing almost one-third of his or her skills during school break. The same study also found that students lose two months of reading skills over the summer and that by 6th grade, this translates to students losing more than 18 months of learning! Once school starts, teachers find that they spend an estimated six weeks just to get children ready to learn material in the new grade. If a teacher decides to forge ahead without review, there is the danger of the accumulation of learning loss, which can threaten to leave students even further behind. Summer learning loss has been found to be especially true for subjects such as Math and Science.

Students most likely to suffer from the summer learning gap

There are two categories of students who are more likely to suffer the most learning loss during the summer. The first are children who are idle during the summer. As parents busy themselves with their professional occupations and housework during the summer, children who are at home are less likely to be supervised. With the large number of media, literally at their fingertips, it is more likely that the children choose to do what is convenient, i.e. passively consuming media, rather than getting actively involved in conducting a science experiment or actively reading literature.

The other category of students most likely to experience a learning gap during the summer are those from underprivileged backgrounds, who simply don’t have access to summer classes because of a lack of funds. Once school starts, the disparity in learning becomes obvious as they fall far behind their peers who have continued their education during the summer months through tutoring or other educational activities.

Benefits of a year-round education

While continuing an educational programme during the summer is an ideal solution to summer learning loss, the reality is that many parents just don’t have the funds to be able to do this. In an ideal world, all children would have access to some sort of educational programme throughout the year.

Another solution to the slide is to evenly break up academic holidays over the course of a year, so children don’t have a very long break away from school.

There are several ways that children could benefit from year round school with short breaks. The first and most obvious benefit is that with a shorter summer break, teachers will be required to devote less time to reviewing the course when the children return to school. With shorter breaks children will continue to be more familiar with the content they covered before the break, in effect reducing the impact of the summer slide.

Also teaching all year round is likely to give teachers sufficient teaching time. They are more likely to cover the entire syllabus and still have time left over for other activities that adds that extra punch to their teaching skills, such as inviting guest speakers, conducting experiments and taking field trips.  

Apart from preventing the summer slide, another reason to continue education without (or rather with very few pauses) is that it will lead to a better use of school facilities and will also help maximize the utilization of staff and resources.

The major impact that the summer slide can have is unfortunately on learning for low-income students who may struggle to make up during the school year. The slide is also likely to contribute to the achievement gap, widening the inequality in academic achievement among children from different socioeconomic levels.

Do you think year round school is a solution to the summer slide? Do give us feedback.

July 2019