It’s 5am in the morning. The sun isn’t up yet, but you are. You drag yourself to the bathroom and brush your teeth with your eyes closed, imagining that you’re still lying in your nice warm bed. Lately, your bed and you have become estranged lovers – you adore each other a lot, but just can’t seem to find time to be together. With your eyes still closed you put on your uniform, take your breakfast and make your way out of the house. You’re all too familiar with this dreadful morning ritual.
We all are. Going to school becomes a battle to stay awake (or not be noticed sleeping).
Why does school have to start so early?
A quick Google search suggests that school start times were once aligned with farming routines. Because children needed to help their parents tend the crops, they’d wake up around 5am anyway. Once they were done, they could go to school and everything would be just right.
As much as this is likely to be true, it’s probably not the main reason why schools in Singapore are starting at such worm-getting hours. For one, not many people in Singapore have been tending crops or sowing seeds for a while now. We could say that our school schedules originated from when we were a colony of the British. Those people did do more farming than us, after all.
However, we probably wouldn’t have kept the practice we copied from the British all the way till now if it didn’t work. There’s got to be reasons why we’re still doing it…right?
Starting early means more lesson time.
The difference between starting classes at 8 and starting classes at 9 is not always just that one hour. This is because you have to factor in recess and lunch, which, as much as the school’s planners might disapprove, is compulsory. Starting at 8 gives about two hours to plan lessons with, so you can have three periods of 40 minutes before recess which normally comes at 10.If you start at 9, then you really only have one full period of 40.
But wait. If you’re familiar with how lectures and tutorials are scheduled in a typical JC, then this all doesn’t make sense, because there isn’t always a mandatory recess time, and in fact breaks are staggered all over the place. It still makes sense for the school’s planners to start things off early, though, because it is quite the challenge to arrange different lectures and tutorials amongst all 50 classes and make sure that no two lessons happen to occur in the same venue at the same time. Take away that precious one hour, and suddenly nothing works anymore. You can’t just squeeze in another class anywhere else. So you have to rework the entire schedule.
And if you’re also familiar with the way change works its way through organisations…it doesn’t. Because the ‘smart aleck’ who suggests starting later gets the job of planning the entire new schedule, complete with venues, teacher and class allocations. It’s not anyone’s fault, just how the world works…
If that’s the case, why don’t we just start later AND end later? Well, because…
Starting early also means ending early.
And ending early is awesome. When lessons end early, you have more time for supplementary classes and CCAs. And teachers have more time for the work they need to do in the staff room. Your parents will also be happy that you get to come home early to have dinner with them, rest, and relax study, do your homework, and go for your tuition classes.
In fact, the society wins too, because…
Waking up early makes you a better person.
You read that right. Not just a better employee, but a better person.
Cue the entire argument about how waking up at 5am prepares you for the working world when you have to report for work at 8am every day as well. Let’s not dispute that it’s beneficial for now ok? We could point out that many jobs actually start at 9, but let’s just not.
The real interesting point we want to be talking about is how scientists have found that there’s some kind of magic in the morning air that makes us healthier.
In short, when you’re an early riser, your sleep cycle is in sync with natural sleep cycles that human beings should have. The morning, as the research says, is a time where homo prehistoricus liked to go hunting and to socialize. Getting up early and getting some exercise or meeting people actually refreshes you and improves your all-round performance for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately for us, though, we’re students. You can’t just go to sleep at 1am after rushing a project and then force yourself up at 5 and expect to feel all revitalized. That’s why articles on the benefits of waking up early tend to feature people who aren’t students (ie. the ones who can actually sleep early too). I’m pretty sure the benefits of sleeping enough far outweigh those of waking up early.
In the end, though, these benefits still give schools a pretty good reason to start early. After all, they aren’t the ones who are forcing you to sleep late (or are they?) Their job and what they can make you do is wake you up early and take in all that miracle-working morning air.
So, the next time you find yourself prying your eyes open and dragging yourself out of bed at 5am, only to go to school for one lesson before a three hour break, remember these reasons. At least you don’t have to till the land and water the crops before you are allowed to go to school. It might help you feel better about how you can do nothing to change how early lessons need to start.