Rais­ing the bar?

The Compass - - OPINION - Kirk Squires

When did home­work be­come a plague? Few peo­ple, stu­dents or par­ents alike, rel­ish the thought of fac­ing hours of math, sci­ence and lan­guage each evening.

Home­work, and how much or how lit­tle stu­dents are as­signed, has been a con­tentious is­sue for some time. It’s not that most par­ents are up on the lat­est stud­ies which might sug­gest home­work has no in­her­ent value in the ed­u­ca­tion of their chil­dren, it’s more likely the case they are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to bal­ance home­work with the day-to-day de­mands of their job and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. So what’s the an­swer? Com­plain to the school board who then im­ple­ments a new pol­icy lim­it­ing the amount of af­ter­school work stu­dents can be as­signed.

That’s what hap­pened last month when the East­ern School District un­veiled its new home­work pol­icy.

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, the pol­icy was partly the re­sult of com­plaints from some par­ents that chil­dren were be­ing over-worked af­ter school hours. There was also the is­sue of home­work be­ing as­signed dur­ing hol­i­days. The East­ern School District’s Di­rec­tor of Ed­u­ca­tion, Dar­rin Pike, says the pol­icy was de­vel­oped af­ter a con­sul­ta­tion process.

The new guide­lines dic­tate 10 min­utes of home­work for Kinder­garten stu­dents, 30 min­utes for pri­mary, 40 for ele­men­tary, one hour for in­ter­me­di­ate stu­dents, and one to two hours of work for high school stu­dents.

It’s sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar to a re­cent home­work pol­icy adopted by the Toronto District School Board.

That pol­icy abol­ished home- work al­to­gether for Kinder­garten, re­duced home­work for all grades and banned the as­sign­ment of home­work the day be­fore a hol­i­day.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port, the pol­icy stresses home­work which re­in­forces what has been learned rather than in­tro­duc­ing new in­for­ma­tion.

One of­fi­cial has sug­gested the pol­icy en­cour­ages read­ing and even cook­ing diner with par­ents in­stead.

That is some­thing of a stretch and wish­ful think­ing at best.

While some par­ents will spend the “non-home­work” time with their chil­dren and use it in a constructive man­ner, the ma­jor­ity won’t and the kids will sim­ply spend more time in front of their screen of choice - TV, com­puter, video game etc.

But there are two sides to any is­sue and home­work is no dif­fer­ent. There are those who see its ben­e­fits while there are oth­ers who would like it rel­e­gated to his­tory along with the rib­bon type­writer and black and white tele­vi­sion.

And each side has le­git­i­mate ar­gu­ments. For ex­am­ple, one has to ques­tion the value of hours of ex­ces­sive amounts of home­work for fourth and fifth graders. Is that much home­work re­ally hav­ing any ben­e­fit on the child’s ed­u­ca­tion or is it sim­ply con­tribut­ing to burnout?

In the mean­time home­work does have in­her­ent ben­e­fits. Those ben­e­fits go be­yond the sub­ject the child is study­ing. Home­work is a part of a larger life les­son that builds the foun­da­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity, dis­ci­pline, meet­ing dead­lines etc. By telling stu­dents home­work is not a val­ued part of their day, are we are set­ting them up for fu­ture fail­ure?

What would hap­pen if there was a com­plete ban on home­work in the pri­mary and ele­men­tary grades? Would those chil­dren be lost when they hit the in­ter­me­di­ate and high school grades and sim­ply had no no­tion on how to study? And what would those same stu­dents do in a post-secondary set­ting where the work done in the class­room is merely a frac­tion of what is re­quired?

It also begs the ques­tion, what was the im­pe­tus for this pol­icy? How much was based on solid an­a­lyt­i­cal data and how much was a knee-jerk re­ac­tion to com­plaints from par­ents?

The in­her­ent prob­lem with this home­work pol­icy is the at­tempt to set time lim­its.

School board of­fi­cials need a sub­tle re­minder that chil­dren are not spit out of the cookie cut­ter. Each child is an in­di­vid­ual and has in­di­vid­ual needs.

What takes one child 10 min­utes to com­plete will take an­other 20.

What ed­u­ca­tors should be fo­cus­ing on in­stead is not do­ing away with home­work but in­ves­ti­gat­ing how to use home­work to build on the strengths of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Home­work can give par­ents an av­enue to play an ac­tive role in their child’s ed­u­ca­tion.

And chil­dren also have to take some re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own ed­u­ca­tion and learn how to study on their own. It’s part of grow­ing up.

The most suc­cess­ful coun­tries in terms of read­ing, sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics are Sin­ga­pore, Ja­pan, and China, where kids are sent home with hours of home­work.

Why is it that Cana­dian so­ci­ety ap­pears to have an in­tense aver­sion to hard work?

When a prob­lem is iden­ti­fied why not find a so­lu­tion that builds stu­dents up rather than sim­ply low­er­ing the bar. It’s that easy way out which brought us “ new math.”

Per­haps each and ev­ery school district in New­found­land and Labrador should adopt a new pol­icy to stop ca­pit­u­lat­ing to ev­ery com­plaint a par­ent may have and stop con­jur­ing up poli­cies that ap­pear to have no pos­i­tive im­pact on ed­u­ca­tion.

We owe it to our chil­dren to give them the best ed­u­ca­tion pos­si­ble, if that in­cludes home­work, so be it.

Kirk Squires is a free­lance writer liv­ing in Shoal Har­bour.

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