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In defence of fall study breaks

By in Opinions

SEAN MCEVOY — THE XAIERIAN WEEKLY (Saint Francis Xavier University)

Fall Break

ANTIGONISH (CUP) — While there may be reasons against having additional breaks during a university calendar year, the benefits surely outweigh the costs.

On Oct. 15, Maclean’s On Campus published an article titled “Why universities should quit adding more breaks,” making a case about why Canadian universities should not add a fall study break period to their academic calendars.

The author outlined that a further reduction of class time would hinder students’ abilities to cope with the time required of jobs in the “real world,” and that the benefits of a fall break would only be “temporary.”

Really? How wrong can he be? First of all, the article greatly minimizes the effort that many students put forth into their education.

In the article, Josh Dehaas states that, in university, “9-5 work habits start to fade” and that a typical second-year student will have classes spread over three days. I would argue that many students have work habits that in fact surpass the 9-5 working hours, while students in many programs have classes four and five days a week.

To put an emphasis on the number of hours a student spends in the classroom would be a wildly inaccurate observation as to the true amount of work hours someone puts into their education.

In faculties of engineering across the country, many classes start at 8:15 a.m. and go until 5 p.m. Then come numerous hours of revision, assignments, group work, term papers and — to top it all off — midterms twice a term and a final exam.

Ask many students what their average bed time is during the week and you’ll find it’s midnight or later as they try to keep up with the never ending workload. There’s a reason why there has been an increase in the popularity of “study drugs” like Adderall and Vyvanse nationwide — and why empty coffee cups and energy drink cans fill  recycle bins around campus.

Dehaas also notes that many students would name procrastination as their biggest problem with their studies, which leads us to feel “worthless” and adds to our mental health problems. This observation is absurd and backwards.

When someone is struggling with depression or other mental illnesses due to a variety of social factors, it is then that thoughts of worthlessness or feeling pathetic will creep in. These situations are what contribute to the “why bother attitude” of procrastination in some people, not the other way around.

Other students who simply procrastinate due to laziness or partying too hard are the students you often see flunk out or drop out. But the ones that are here to work hard for their future careers will put in as many hours as they can, and procrastination generally becomes a problem for them only when the workload gets overwhelming.

National hikes in tuition have led to an increase in students working one or more part-time jobs during the school year just to get by, increasing stress and taking away from time when we could be concentrated on  studies.

If balancing all the commitments of a part-time job and being a full-time student doesn’t prepare you for work in the “real world,” I don’t know what will.

The concept of the “real world” being beyond university is a fallacy. We’re already living in it. Students know what to expect beyond university thanks to the education we receive. We will not be “in for a shock,” as Dehaas puts it.

The amount of stress many students are under can lead to a deteriorating social life, whether it is with family or friends. More time cooped up in the library and less time with the positive people in your life can undoubtedly contribute to depression.

Make no mistake, this is a crisis that needs to be addressed at every university in this country. We are slowly making improvements, but it is already far too late for many.

The September 2013 report by CTV’s W5 is just one of the numerous publications outlining the increasing suicide rates among university students. So how can anyone say that a fall study break that would positively affect mental health is not worth it? How can one extra week of classes be given more value than the quality of life of a human being?

The benefits of the break may be short lived, lifting students spirits for only a few days, but often that is all they need — a little reminder to look after themselves, to refresh, relax and come back ready to learn again.

Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor

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