I have often wondered why international schools in Tanzania continue to follow a northern hemisphere calendar, even though all logic dictates that we should follow a southern hemisphere calendar, with us being south of the Equator and all. What’s the difference, you might ask?
Well, a northern hemisphere school calendar typically starts the school year in August and finishes in June, with most external examinations held in May. This calendar will usually have a 1-week holiday in October, a 2-3 week holiday in December/January, and a 10-day holiday around Easter. The longest holiday will be at the end of the school year between June and August, with anywhere from 6 – 9 weeks off.
This calendar usually applies to schools in North America and Europe, and surprisingly, to many international schools in Africa. It has its roots in agrarian societies, where it was expected that children would be free of school in their summer months, and would spend their time in the fields with their families, helping the family farm to harvest crops. Although societies changed, the school calendar remained the more or less the same.
The Southern hemisphere school year runs differently, with a start in January and a finish in early December, with most external examinations held in November. This calendar will usually have a 2-week holiday around Easter, a 5-week holiday between July-August, and a short holiday in October. The longest holiday is between December-January, ranging from 6-7 weeks.
This usually applies to schools based south of the Equator, and is geared around escaping the heat of their hot summer months.
While many international curriculums follow a northern calendar (and hence the movement by most African international schools to follow this), the most recognized of them (including Cambridge) also have provision for a southern hemisphere examination schedule. Sadly, few international schools in Tanzania follow this, instead sticking to the August-June option. Perhaps because this is more appealing to international families who usually arrive in post in time for the start of school in August, or perhaps because the complexities of switching from an August-June calendar to a January-December calendar would be too much to manage. I know that I have always been partial to a January-December school calendar, mainly because it makes life simpler.
School calendars can match fiscal calendars (always useful for accounting purposes), parents can take more time off to travel (when they add in the multitude of public holidays over Christmas), and cut-off dates for grades become easier to understand! And of course, more balanced breaks over the course of the year does not land you with bored children in long June-August stretch with nothing useful to do except to promptly forget all that they have learnt in the last year – clearly, the days of them being usefully engaged in the fields are over!
Waheeda Shariff Samji is a Director at The Latham School