Raising the bar?
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.