Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just too much homework

PEOPLE often say that we never stop learning, but parents are painfully discovering that homework is also an ongoing process -- many are doing more homework and school projects now than when they were in school.
Although the benefits of homework are indisputable, experts are questioning whether there's such a thing as too much homework.

Professor Puan Sri Dr Rohaty Majzub of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Faculty of Education believes that we should stop putting pressure on preschoolers and school-going children.

She asserts that Malaysians may be placing too much emphasis on homework. 
"We need to be sensitive to the fact that the quality of children's lives are eroding, early childhood is slowly disappearing. Why? Because we're turning them into robots. 

"We're dictating how they should spend their lives; we're pushing them too hard, much like a pressure cooker.

"Studies on the effectiveness of homework are inconclusive, in fact some findings don't show a strong correlation between homework and academic achievement." 

Homework shouldn't be abolished totally, but it should be handed out with care and caution, Rohaty believes. 

"The amount of homework expected to be completed leaves very little time for family outings and bonding.

Some parents also get stressed up or stress their children up if their homework is not up to date. 

As a result, parent-child relationships may be further bruised. Homework should be fun and not treated as something which brings about penalty and punishment."

An English tuition teacher, who only wanted to be known as Kamaruddin, notes that many students who come for his classes have a tough time concentrating.

"I feel really sorry for these kids because they're falling asleep while I'm teaching, and many are still in their school uniforms at 8pm. Of course, as a teacher it irritates me, but I blame parents more than kids. 

"When I question them, many admit that they're forced to attend classes to improve their Mathematics skills, on top of piano, drama and art classes. I believe parents are expecting too much from kids.

"I've also come across students who purposely hide or 'forget' their homework because they never have the time to finish it. This is a sign of desperation which leads to lies and deceit, if unchecked it can become a horrible habit and way of life." 

One standard that many schools in the United States are using to regulate homework is the "10-minute rule" created by Duke University psychology professor, Harris Cooper. 

The rule says kids should get 10 minutes of homework a night per grade (standard). A first grader would have 10 minutes of homework each night, while a fifth grader would have 50 minutes.

The homework revolution has also reached Toronto, which in 2008 banned homework for kindergartens and for older children on school holidays, and to the Philippines, where the Education Department recently opposed weekend assignments so that students can "enjoy their childhood". 

Teachers at an elementary school in California are replacing homework with "goal work", which is specific to individual student's needs can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace.

However, some Malaysian parents are of the opinion that schools aren't giving enough homework. 

Mother of three, Selena (not her real name), 40, from Malacca is one of them.

"I honestly don't believe that children have too much homework. It's after school activities which take up most of their time, like sports practice and society meets. I would say that homework is minimal. 

"I'm all for homework because otherwise they won't open their books. Those days, there was so much more drilling, kids were never left idle." 

Working mom, Zalina Ali, 45, however, feels that project work isn't as beneficial as it used to be. 

"There's lots more project work unlike during our time. I would prefer it if children were asked to perform based on their own efforts and not rely on the Internet so much. Many kids are merely copying and pasting, without learning anything. Furthermore, all these projects require Internet and computing facilities, cost money and are time consuming."

Former headmistress, Hamisah Hapipah, 69, says although homework and projects were always a big part of schooling, it wasn't meant to burden students. 

"In my time, teachers gave out homework based on class and subject. For instance, if it was an exam class, teachers would make sure students had Mathematics homework every day. They would be given no less than 20 questions every day and 40 to 50 sums to complete each weekend. 

"It's disheartening to hear that new teachers ask students to exchange homework for marking. 

"Those days, teachers would always recheck books to understand a child's weak areas. Otherwise, what's the purpose of homework?

"I notice that many teachers give a long list of words to memorise for spelling, but students don't even know the meaning of these words. It's much better to follow what we used to do, which is to pick out words from books they have to read."

Will homework standardisation solve the problem? Apparently not. 

"One size doesn't fit all, standardisation has the tendency to reap uncreative results. For instance, homework given to a fast learner should be different from that given to a slow learner. 

"Teachers should be responsible in setting appropriate homework tailored to meet a child's needs. The balancing act must be determined depending on both the curriculum and student needs," Rohaty says. 

Haw Mee Wah, 40, who sends her two boys to a Chinese vernacular school, agrees that homework regulating isn't the answer. 

"My eldest son, Connor, is efficient and can finish tons of homework within two hours without guidance. But my younger son, Carrick, needs to be guided. Therefore I'm forced to send him to homework coaching classes just to complete his school work, especially because I don't speak Mandarin.

"Although homework allows kids to practice and study without the need for tuition, it's a burden for children who have trouble concentrating. I think non-textbook related activities, such as drama and public speaking lessons, are more beneficial."

School heads should play an active role, Rohaty adds.

"They need to address the issue of balancing homework and projects through focus group discussions with teachers and subject matter specialists. As academic leaders, they should oversee the implementation of homework and projects in a continuous and ongoing manner. 

"With accurate research data, schools can improve on homework implementation policies. There's no doubt that practice makes perfect, however, at times it can lead to helplessness and frustration, especially if it's misguided."

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