(Mis)understanding homework – Part II
Generally, I agree with the previously mentioned objectives of homework, but in principle I disagree with the traditional homework, which for me is nothing more than one of many ways of achieving these objectives. Thus, for me, homework has developed from a reinforcement for learning (which is originally set out to be) to becoming all but an institution in itself, a by-product of education, which instead of a means, has developed into an end-product, an independent task that has to be performed, perceived to be an essential piece of the education puzzle, that is legitimized through the perception amongst all but a few, that it is an aim in itself, and thus necessary.
If we can achieve these targets/aims/objectives in other ways or by other means than through traditional homework, which in many ways is not only boring, but also outdated, we have achieved something great.
Moreover, there are other reasons for avoiding traditional homework. The help and support students get with their traditional homework at home, varies greatly from family to family. This can be due to lack of time, but also ability. As in our case, many parents do not have the opportunity to help the students at home because of lack of English skills. On the other hand, a lot of homework is often done by the parents, which is in conflict with the very purpose of the homework. Traditional homework also creates anxiety in many children, and constant pressure from they leave school and until it is finally done, often late at night.
I am not arguing for abolishing homework altogether. However, I am arguing for a change in how we teach. This means a shift towards lessons where students to a greater extent take centre stage, which again may cause students to disconnect from school when they leave, allowing them to spend time with friends and families, and participate in other activities. This way I am convinced that they return to school the next day with a fresh mind and increased capacity for learning. Homework assignments,I believe, may include a quantity or period of reading to be performed, writing or typing to be completed, problems to be solved, a school project to be built (such as a diorama or display), or other skills to be practiced, many of which to a greater extent can involve parents in a meaningful way.
Keep in mind also, that, although still substantial, the number of hours students spend on homework has decreased in the last couple of decades (the OECD average went from an average 5.9 hours in 2003, to 4.9 hours in 2012). The fact that Singaporean students spend seven hours or more, and Shanghai-China 14 hours per week, on average, doing homework, is not an indicator of the usefulness of homework, as by contrast, students in Finland and Korea reported that they spend less than three hours per week. All these countries do very well in the PISA Worldwide Ranking, mind you.
Still, supporters of homework among our parents need not fear there will be drastic changes. Quite the contrary. We still have several years of hard work in front of us before we get to the desired level, so there will not be any significant changes in the coming years.