Helping or hurting? Homework in the modern age

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KUWAIT: Is homework a part of the learning process, which extends and reinforces the learning experiences that occur in the classroom? Or is it just a waste of time? Is it really necessary or effective? Does it help at all? More and more parents and teachers are questioning the value of homework. In the States, some schools have begun instituting “no homework” policies, especially for children in the elementary and middle school grades.

The 10-minute rule
After eight hours of school, most students do not want to spend hours more doing homework. And it is increasingly unclear whether homework has any inherent value. In the US, the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association have called for a 10-minute rule for homework. This rule essentially recommends 10 minutes of homework per grade level, beginning with first grade. So kids in first grade receive no more than 10 minutes of homework per night, kids in second grade get 20 minutes and so on.

Some parents oppose even this.

“Homework does not help to make any academic progress. Instead, it causes health problems for them and myself, like stress, tension, sleep disorders, depression, anger and other mood disorders. I’m spending hours to teach my children what I pay for the school to do,” said Simone Salcedo, a mother of two children.

Salcedo sends her children to a Filipino school in Salmiya.

“The child is not supposed to spend the whole day at school, then return to do homework. They have to play, explore, relax, do household tasks and get enough sleep,” she told Kuwait Times. She said that her children spend their school week doing homework for five subjects at least, and on top of this she spends an additional two to three hours each evening on homework. “I’m paying the school to teach my kids. I spend the mornings at work, and all evenings doing homework for the new lessons.”

“Home assignments have no effect on students’ progress in school. The best example is that there is no homework in Finland. Their law also provides for the child not to be tested until the age of 11,” explained Eman Elkhouly, mother of a private school student. Elkhouly agreed with Salcedo’s opinion that homework is a lot and takes too much time to do. She added that Kuwait must follow Finland’s footsteps, which occupies first place in the education category and make adjustments regarding homework. “It is difficult for young children to deal with complex skills such as time management, or understand their feelings and deal with them over different assignments and duties.”

Other parents differ, arguing that teachers cannot make sure that every child understands their lessons in a class of 25 to 40 students. Jasmine said homework is useful for her son and makes him practice what he has learned in school that day. “The child will learn responsibility and develop self-discipline. I would prefer my child spends his time doing homework than waste his time playing video games,” she told Kuwait Times.

Divided opinions
Teachers too are divided about the value and role of nightly homework. “Homework is an important part of the school’s approach to help young people work, think and learn on their own. We understand that primary children will often need help with their homework and appreciate the significant support provided by families in this regard,” said Munira Al-Nahed, a primary teacher.

She told Kuwait Times that homework aims to develop and encourage the habit of reading, and allow the student to revise the work done in class, or prepare for the following lesson.

“The habit of regular work at home is a good routine. Teachers must be aware that the maximum recommended homework time per night in the primary phase is 20 minutes for the first year and 10 minutes more for the next grade,” Nahed added.

“The time that students spend on homework varies depending on the subject and student’s ability. If a child experiences difficulties completing homework, parents are asked to send a note to the teacher in the assignment planner,” said Sami Al-Suwailem, a teacher of students who have learning difficulties. He explained that home assignments are not expected to be returned perfectly if a child has trouble – it is a signal for the teacher to reteach a skill or review the assignment.

According to teachers, to implement these practices, students must be motivated to do their homework in the first place. Fahd Abu Hussein, a science teacher, pointed out that homework also takes a long time for teachers in preparing and correcting. “We must remember that duties and responsibilities is not a matter of how nice they are, but are necessary to keep moving in academic life. Homework is a part of the lives of children around the world, and it has great importance to the improvement of children’s thinking and memory. It helps them develop skills and positive attitudes. It also benefits their families — some moms did not complete their schooling, so they have a chance to learn with their kids,” he reasoned.

Homework internationally
According to the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the highest homework loads are associated with countries that have lower incomes and higher social inequality. Undoubtedly, homework is a global phenomenon – students from all 59 countries that participated in the 2007 study reported getting homework. Worldwide, only less than 7 percent of fourth graders said they did no homework. In some nations like Algeria, Kuwait and Morocco, more than one in five fourth graders reported high levels of homework. In Japan, less than 3 percent of students indicated they did more than four hours of homework on a normal school night.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in a 2008 survey, said one-third of parents polled rated the quality of their children’s homework assignments as fair or poor, and 4 in 10 said they believed that some or a great deal of homework was busywork. A new study, in the Economics of Education Review, reports that homework in science, English and history has “little to no impact” on student test scores. (The authors did note a positive effect for math homework.)

To sum it up, enriching children’s classroom learning requires making homework not shorter or longer, but smarter.

TNS

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