The Great Homework Debate

By Ian Gross | Parents Avenue’s Columnist 
Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK.
Most children complain about it, many parents have mixed feelings about it. Homework. Too much, too little. Love it or hate it, homework is a part of your child’s education and daily life. From experience, homework is one of the main school topics that divide parents’ opinions, almost globally.

For some families, the perception of homework is an opportunity to study more, learn more and therefore progress more. For others, homework is a disruptor to family life, getting in the way and causing untold frustration to children and parents alike. For the school it is work that must be given, returned (or chased up) and marked.

 

Finland, a country that constantly ranks at the top of the PISA tests (Program for International Student Assessment), has no homework in its schools, Bahrain recently announced no homework in government schools. At the other end of the spectrum, China averages 14 hours a week with Russia close behind having ten hours per week.

 

The debate for homework, pro and anti, has been heating up over recent years and more educationalists and researchers are turning their attentions on an activity that we have all long accepted as a part and parcel of education.

I’d like to draw your attention to current beliefs of the benefits and the drawbacks of homework in society today. I am going to sit on the fence and try not to give my opinions either way and see what conclusions you come to, read on with an open mind as I outline five arguments for and five arguments against homework.

Five Benefits of Homework:

 

  1. Discipline. Repeating questions and skills over and over can be boring, however it embeds skills and knowledge. Discipline is a great skill to have as an adult and as concepts are repeated, they do become easier, similar to muscle memory when training in sports.
  1. Management. Organising and completing homework tasks throughout the week supports development of time management and self-management. Both skills are excellent for preparing younger students for longer study in later life and older students for adult life and careers. Independence to manage yourself is a great attribute that can be gained through homework.
  1. Learning. Homework extends the amount of time required to understand concepts learned at school. Tasks allow students to practise what they have learned and to see their progress develop which leads to self-confidence and motivation in the subject areas.
  1. Family Time. Often, parents and siblings get involved in supporting homework. This time is invaluable in such a busy society, it offers an opportunity to spend time with each other and learning to support one another. It is great as a tool for parents to understand what their children are doing and what they are capable of.
  1. Progress. As children become more confident through the homework they are doing, they will also show greater progress in class. Progress is also supported when children don’t do well with homework as teachers can discover underlying confusions or problems and so support them to get past this hurdle. Greater progress equals better grades which equals better opportunities.

Five Disadvantages to Homework:

 

  1. Full Day. Children are already working a full day when they finish school, especially if they have activities after school. Don’t forget the school journey, which for some can be over an hour each way. A school day can easily be eight hours or more, then you expect them to spend more hours on work when they get home. Children need time to be children.
  1. Social Life. Linked to the above, children just like us, need downtime, they do need time to recharge their batteries and have outside interests, playing an instrument, doing sport, developing their creative flair, or simply socialising with friends and family. The old saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” does have relevance, and no parent wants to socially disadvantage their children (parties all the time are also not recommended).
  1. Evidence. There is a growing body of research showing that for the general school population, academic benefits of homework are very limited and in fact can create negativity about school and subjects in children as well as towards teachers. It is worth noting that the evidence does show, for some individuals, that extra support is beneficial when well structured.
  1. Unsuitable. How many times have your children brought home homework that can not be completed, either due to time constraints, too difficult or not the right resources (or even, they have left something at school)? Homework can be reliant on a number of factors, including attitudes. Do you have time to help your children, do you have to nag them, do you have to go and see relatives in the hospital? Homework is often a one size fits all kind of deal and does not consider family life or home resources. But how can it, the teacher does not live with you.
  1. Cheating. How many of us as parents over-help our children? This is becoming so common that some schools no longer mark homework as they don’t know who did it. Helping your child to come up with an answer is one thing but telling them the answer does not help them. It only encourages children to be dependent on others. Schooling should be about creating independence. Have you ever spent half the night completing an art project or trying to figure out simultaneous equations? If the work is that hard or takes that long that you need to be doing it, then you need to re-read the point above about suitability.

Clearly homework can be beneficial and can also be detrimental. Perhaps its not homework as an activity, but what the homework actually is. The points above are aimed at parents and students. Equally, I could discuss the pros and cons of homework from a school’s point of view and they would similarly be as compelling. For as many parents that agree or disagree with the notion of homework, you will find an identical number of teachers that argue for or against work at home for children.

Whether you agree or disagree, children are different from each other, and you know your child. Some children thrive with extra work, some simply refuse. Others enjoy different types of homework, and some children need support, not extra work they don’t understand.

It is the school’s responsibility to make sure homework is relevant and doable (but not in Finland). It shouldn’t simply be completing work not finished in class. It is a parent’s responsibility to support their child and encourage and also protect, children should not be spending hours and hours on a task, the teacher needs to know if a child is struggling, to help support them and not to move on in the lesson too quickly for them.

So, are you for or against? Is it time for a change or should schools continue with homework?

Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK.

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