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World Education Highlight - Recess Around the World

Updated: Feb 6

Recess, a fundamental component of the school day, serves as an essential period for relaxation and play for students around the world. Though universally recognized, the approach to recess varies significantly across different countries, reflecting cultural nuances and educational philosophies.


Playground

China: Structured Play with Health Benefits

In China, recess traditionally focuses on structured group activities. Since 1963, this approach has included mandatory eye exercises due to a concern about high rates of myopia (nearsightedness) in students. In today’s world, there seems to be a shift towards more unstructured play, where schools intersperse classroom sessions with short breaks where students are encouraged to engage in traditional games. The Chinese prize this approach to balance physical health with creative development of students. This supports the habit of frequent breaks once students reach middle school amidst the increased pressure that comes with middle and high school education.


Costa Rica:  Unstructured Play Reigns

Students in Costa Rica enjoy almost an hour of play per day. According to UNESCO, these unstructured periods of enjoyment are significant in the progress and well-being of Costa Rican students. Post-lunch play time is also emphasized to give students opportunities for social interaction as well.


Finland:  Recess for Learning

In Finland, recess rules, with a 15-minute play break for every hour spent in study. Finland’s novel approach to recess may seem shocking, but the overall emotional well-being of Finland as a population may stem from these unstructured, independent play breaks as children. Frequent breaks with time for play have been shown to be directly linked to increased and sustained classroom achievements as well as the development of pro-social skills.


India: Urban-Rural Divides

There is a stark contrast between India’s urban and rural education systems, which speaks to the differences in recess practices. In urban settings, schools limit both lunch and recess breaks due to space constraints, which could impact students’ physical and social development. In rural schools, however, they are able to spread out and offer more recess time, which can create a more conducive environment for both activity and socialization.


Uganda:  Spreading Joy

Ugandan students experience more play and creative activities at the end of their school day to support the cultural importance of taking joyful experiences from education into the world. As an integral part of their day, they offer extended playtime with a focus on social and emotional development and cultural expression.


Overall, the global perspective reveals the integral role of recess in preparing younger students for the increased social and physical demands of their later academic lives. Whether through structured activities focused on health in China or the free and creative play in Finland and Uganda, each country’s approach to recess reflects its educational priorities and cultural values. It’s not simply a pause for fun but a pointed time for each student's development, socialization, and emotional well-being.


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