Weeks after the government declared Saturday as an off day, school authorities are still confused on the implementation. School management or decision making bodies, it is said, are waiting for clear directives on  how Saturdays should be spent. Strict school managements are  even asking for attendance of teachers on Saturday even if the day is non-teaching day.

While the debate whether to make Saturday off or on has dominated discussions among educationists, policy makers, school authorities, parents and even students, it is not a complicated issue. Many schools, especially private schools, had been managing school routines well. Some had made the best use of Saturdays- whether to conduct parent-teachers meetings, non-teaching activities or other management issues that are important in running a school.

Whether Saturday is off or on, it is best left to school authorities. Some schools use the day to focus on school agriculture programmes where students are exposed to opportunists in agriculture as a profession. Import dependent Bhutan would be celebrating if five percent of students took up agriculture as a profession. The school agriculture programme could be the beginning if teachers can convince students of the prospects in agriculture.

Education minister, Yeezang De Thapa letting individual schools decide activities on Saturdays is a wise decision. We cannot impose activities on schools. The priorities of schools differ. In some dzongkhags, a school may be expected to help the community maintain a gewog road or the water source. In others, parents may want students to learn something different, outside the school curricula, say artificial intelligence.

What we need to understand is that every activity, big or small, on a Saturday should lead to learning. It could be students helping a community transplant paddy or joining an advocacy programme on waste management. Off or on, Saturdays can be a learning experience for students. If the intention is to give rest to students for two days in a week, it gives enough time for school administration or teachers to plan lessons, activities if not give them an extra day off to rejuvenate.

Making Saturdays off does not mean an extra off day for teachers. Some teachers appreciate the decision because they get an extra day to plan for the week, reflect on the lessons taught and if possible,  discuss issues related to teaching and school administration.

An extra day for teachers not having to teach could be used for professional development. Teachers are busy teaching from Mondays to Fridays even if there are opportunities for them to learn and unlearn from the numerous workshops, conferences and training conducted. Teachers have no time even if a conference is relevant to them because they have to complete the syllabus. We are not accepting that the way we teach and learn is changing. A Saturday could be used for teachers and school management to engage in meaningful discourse.

 That the off day, Saturday, should be used to conduct activities like concerts, fetes and variety shows is misleading. The decision of how to make the best use of the off should be left to school management. Not to deride the performance of government schools, but private schools with five teaching days are doing well both academically and co-curricular activities, whether sports, literary or engagement in activities outside the school.

We trust our teachers and they know the best to make the best use of an extra non-teaching day.