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Hard to believe, but the premiere science high school in the Philippines only teaches kids four days a week. Every Wednesday the students have no classes. Instead they get to spend that day at their favorite school club. And it doesn’t sound like all the clubs are the equivalent of “Physics 4 Fun,” either. For instance, there’s a music club.

Lino Salvana is a 10th grade student at the Philippine Science High School Main Campus in Quezon City. (Photo above.) He explained to us why he loves club day so much:

“Drudgery and mental stress are part of the average day in school. These are magnified several-fold at the Philippine Science High School, the best and most competitive high school in the Philippines. Recognizing the tremendous stress our schoolwork brings, I am grateful that there is a club day that provides some relief!

“Club day is on Wednesday and serves as a welcome change of pace in the middle of an exhausting week. I look forward to club day not just as a break but as a chance to engage in non-academic activities that help us expand our skills. The club I chose, SARS, is dedicated to understanding biological threats. We’ve had field trips to advanced laboratories and it has really helped me appreciate a lot of the science that I read from books. I think club day is a wonderful part of school and I think it makes me a better student and a better human being.”

It sure sounds like it!

Note that this is ALL day, EVERY Wednesday! And it has been in place for as long as Lino’s teacher can remember. In other words: Clearly the school found it valuable and kept it!

I met Lino’s dad, Edsel Maurice Salvana, at the TED Talks in Vancouver this year and was amazed when he told me about his son’s school. Later, I emailed to ask if any other schools are doing this, that he knew of.

Edsel replied that his daughter’s school has a day off each week for self-directed learning, but with modules they’re supposed to work on. So it sounds like a day without formal classroom study, but devoted to the curriculum.

Edsel himself is an extremely accomplished scientist and public health expert — this what appears under his signature on work emails:

Director and Professor

Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

National Institutes of Health

University of the Philippines Manila

Adjunct Professor for Global Health, University of Pittsburgh

When we corresponded, I asked if he ever worried that his son is getting 20% less learning a week than Edsel himself did. He’d been a student at that same high school BEFORE it started Club Wednesdays. He replied:  

“As a parent and as a successful scientist (in particular, a scientist who followed the mission we were given as Philippine Science High School students to contribute relevant science to the Philippines), I’m very happy that the school decided to dedicate a day to club.

“With so much information that kids have at their fingertips from the web on their devices, there really isn’t as much point to memorizing information as we used to do. It is much more important to develop the ability to curate information properly. This is where “soft skills” like club come in. Being able to participate in activities of your choice develops independence and reinforces those skills that you chose to develop.

“This curation skill can then be applied to the lessons that aren’t voluntary, and the child learns to manage the information and he learns to filter the most essential parts of the lesson he needs to pass and to thrive.”

That the most competitive school in a nation is dedicated to nurturing its students’ soft skills and curiosity is remarkable. And exciting. Let’s hear it for kids thriving when we trust them with some unstructured time! Want to get a taste of it in your school? Try the Let Grow Play Club before or after school.

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