Rethinking national school calendars for climate-resilient learning


Tolu Owoeye/

Time in school and its conversion into learning depends on many factors, including teacher presence, teacher preparation, classroom management, discipline, and others. But one important, yet overlooked factor is the school calendar and its implications on learning time.

Most countries set the school calendar uniformly throughout a national territory. This can neglect local factors that may interfere with actual school attendance and time devoted to learning. This is especially true in areas exposed to seasonal climatic risks – heavy rainfall, high temperatures, and droughts – or those who are economically dependent on cyclical activities such as agriculture.

School calendars inherited from colonial times, rather than locally developed, are likely to be even less adapted to local realities.

Focus on sub-Saharan Africa

Recent research in sub-Saharan Africa indicates that students from schools experiencing more rainy days achieve lower scores at the end of the school year.

IIEP is working with governments in sub-Saharan Africa to generate evidence and offer policy guidance and technical assistance to facilitate the development of optimal local school calendars that enhance school time and foundational learning.

This work includes:

  1. Analysing optimal school calendar design through desk research, geospatial and education data analysis, and qualitative approaches.
  2. Actionable policy advice for governments.
  3. Working with governments to discuss, conceive, and support the implementation of local school calendars using micro-planning approaches.

Why this research matters?

In sub-Saharan Arica, nine out of ten children are unable to read and understand a simple text by the age of ten.

Ensuring all children receive a quality education ensures learning is paramount. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, analyses emerged on the effects of school time on learning. Furthermore, empirical studies on COVID-19 school closures concluded that school time is a key factor influencing learning loss.

From desk research to new school calendars: Five research phases 

  1. Desk research: Investigating school calendars in Africa and global experiences of localized calendars to understand their benefits and challenges.
  2. Data Analysis: Analyzing data from multiple countries at a sub-regional level to understand the impact of extreme weather on schools and communities. This involves studying meteorological data to track daily weather exposure and detailed school calendar information. Additionally, a subset of countries will undergo country-level analysis to document the potential exposure of school localities to the agricultural cycle and overlapping with the school calendar.
  3. Country Work: Conducting on-site visits, interviews, and focus groups with school leaders and communities in select countries to study the effects of extreme weather on education outcomes, particularly among vulnerable groups like girls.
  4. Policy Options: Producing a policy brief and other materials to communicate potential policy improvements for school calendar design and the necessary support for implementation.
  5. Technical Support: Providing technical assistance to three interested ministries for redesigning their school calendars, facilitated by IIEP.