Jamus Lim, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Workers’ Party (WP), has proposed having pre-teens and teenagers attend school later, claiming that this will enhance their behavior, health, and academic achievement.
Lim proposed this concept at the Committee of Supply discussions at the Ministry of Education (MOE) on March 7.
In response to Lim, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing clarified MOE policy, stating that the ministry does not impose school start hours other than a “simple baseline” of 7:30 a.m. or later.
He said that the government must “have a care to not try to homogenise all the conditions” across schools, and that greater diversity was important.
Lim cited studies suggesting that teenage circadian rhythms bias them to sleeping and waking two hours later.
One possible counter-argument, according to Lim, is that postponing start times will only cause students to sleep later.
Students with later start times, on the other hand, sleep longer because their bedtimes either stay the same or are delayed by a smaller amount than the time allowed, according to Lim.
According to research, even “a pretty reasonably little delay of about a half an hour or so” resulted in good outcomes. He continued:
“More importantly, the reality is that students are already experiencing sleep deprivation from the status quo.”
He listed “all the marginal steps” parents take to assist their children’s education, such as tuition, relocating closer to favored schools, and “endless bottles of chicken essence,” as instances of “failing to pick the lowest hanging fruit” of allowing children to sleep longer.
As a result, he proposed that upper primary cohorts and secondary schools begin at 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., respectively, rather than the present 7:30 a.m. start time.
“The additional half hour for upper primary students is consistent with how sleep phase delay may occur as early as the onset of puberty,” he said.
He noted that while he was not proposing “strict guidelines” for post-secondary education, a 9 a.m. start time for polytechnics, Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs), and junior colleges would be “reasonable.”
Anticipating a counter-argument that delayed start times “could give rise to disruptive rush hour crunches”, Lim said that the opposite might in fact be true.
“Delays for upper primary and secondary school students will undeniably alter traffic patterns,” Lim conceded, but predicted that this would have a “somewhat limited” impact on rush hour jams.
“With more parents working from home or exercising flexible work schedules in a post-pandemic world, it could easily be the case that any anticipated increase in rush hour traffic be offset by the reduction in working commuters,” he reasoned.
Lim noted that staggered start times will also assist to relieve traffic congestion surrounding schools during arrival and dismissal hours.
The MOE’s stance on start times, according to Chan, boils down to “a basic baseline”: schools can choose when to begin and conclude as long as they do not begin before 7:30 a.m.
They should choose start times based on “their specific demands, student profiles, and the local transportation circumstances.”
He highlighted Junyuan Secondary School in Tampines as an example, which begins classes at 8:30 a.m. twice a week and at 8 a.m. on the other three days.
“Junyuan Secondary is not the only school that has different start times,” he added.
Lim then stood to ask a clarifying question, demanding the number of schools, or the percentage of schools, that have later start hours for at least the majority of school days.
Many schools in Singapore have “different start times,” with others having varying start times on “certain days of the week,” according to Chan.
“But it all depends on when they start, when they end. Some of our schools have kept certain of the afternoons totally free for their students and their teachers to recharge and do other things,” he continued.
Chan emphasised that “we should strive towards a system that provides more diverse options for our schools, our teachers and our students”, in view of the fact that students’ learning needs and backgrounds are diverse.
“I think we must have a care to not try to homogenise all the conditions, when we in fact have agreed that we need greater diversity.”
Thus, for school start times, MOE just “has one simple rule”, Chan said, and restated it, while stifling laughter:
“Thou shalt not start school before 7:30am.”
Despite this, Chan stated that he had received “feedback from various schools” about the topic of modifying the start and finish hours.
“In fact, this is a very good exercise for our students and teachers to come together and decide collectively, what are their priorities, and how do they prioritise the time,” he said.
In his capacity as Minister of Education, he claimed he would be “extremely careful” not to “attempt to mandate for every school — given the diverse realities — to have the same start or finish time.”
Instead, he said he wants teachers and students to “have that agency to take care of this and come to a reasonable agreement,” despite the fact that each school has its own set of circumstances.
Lim had previously inquired about the possibility of a re-evaluation of school start times in August 2021.
MOE responded to Lim’s query, as well as a related question from Tampines MP Cheng Li Hui, by saying that it has “just commissioned two research projects” on the influence of variables impacting pupils’ sleep length and quality.
“This will help us better understand how later school start time could contribute to students’ longer sleep duration,” said the Ministry, adding that schools have the autonomy to adopt later start times.
Aside considering postponing school start hours, the MOE stated that it would need to “engage with parents to promote sleep hygiene, control the overall burden on pupils, as well as their usage of digital gadgets.”