This week is designated as “reading week” for many students at the University of Kent. During this week, there are no classes and students are encouraged to use the time to catch up on course work, which may include reading, essay writing and preparations for the exams at the end of the year. Each department has its own designated week for this purpose, although each week usually falls around the middle of the term.
Whenever I explain this to a friend in the States, I generally get the same response — “Well, isn’t that just your spring break?”
No. We have a spring break, too. It’s a month long, in April.
There’s actually a whole week off from classes just for students to catch up on their schoolwork. And students actually use it for that purpose (well, most students anyway).
When asked about last term’s reading week, one Kent student said, “I used reading week to work on a presentation and an essay I had to do. I didn’t study the whole time, but the break from the pressure of classes and work was nice. I got a lot done.”
Other students take advantage of the opportunity to go home for a week during the time off, especially those who live in neighboring countries such as France and Germany.
“It’s always nice to go home during reading week. I can relax and catch up on my reading without the distractions of the campus life,” one French student said.
It might not seem like a big deal, but consider what happens halfway through the semester at IU — midterm exams. I’d trade those for reading week in a heartbeat. Rather than piling on assessments midway through the term to weigh down and stress out students as they are trying to get a grasp on the material, universities in England do the opposite. With a system that contains less assessment and much more self-directed learning, the reading week encourages self-study and reduces stress rather than adding to it, fostering a better learning environment all around.
I’m not here to say that the system in England is necessarily better than IU’s system; they both have pros and cons. However, I do think that each side could learn a lot from the other, and reading week might just be the best thing IU could adopt from the English higher education system. I’m sure I am going to miss it next year.