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WHAT’S SCHOOL HOMEWORK OF ANY KIND WORTH?

8 November 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The homework explosion is eating into childhood years; it is a hangover governments have failed to address


Studies have shown that homework is no guarantee of improved performance at school. While elsewhere in the world traditional homework is rapidly losing favour and is on the verge of going obsolete, Sri Lankan students are being saddled with more and more regimentalised homework even during school holidays. Our children like puppets in the hands of so-called educational gurus and lackadaisical governments are losing their childhood for no reason. 

Workers, in white collar jobs or blue collar jobs are given holidays. They  need them for rest, in illness, to attend to personal needs, follow hobbies, and meet  a host of family and social obligations. Pertinently holidays, have acquired legal identities. Systems and patterns of holidays differ from one country to another country. In Sri Lanka excepting statutory holidays, people in permanent employment work a standard five days a week or five an a half days a week–the remainder of the week being treated as holidays. Apart from these weekly off-days, organisations offer employees ‘casual leave’, ‘medical leave’ and ‘annual leave’–entitlements that form part and parcel of their terms of employment. Also holidays pertaining to certain workers engaged in specialised categories of work vary within certain basic parameters. 



Silver lining
Holidays are also a major consideration in schools that function for five days a week and close on Saturdays and Sundays. Schools also have ‘end-of-term’ holidays–periods that vary from a couple of weeks to around three or more depending on circumstances. 

During their school days, elders would certainly remember the parallels of today’s ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ and ‘Manic Mondays’ in their own school-going days and how much they looked forward to a holiday–any holiday, especially the end-of-term ones when ‘boarders’ (also called hostellers) went home to be with their parents and ‘day scholars’ had opportunities to be more involved with their families and friends. Schooling was a compulsive and detestable chore then and so it is now. Holidays for most were the only silver lining in school life.

Ill-planned educational systems in operation today to the ire of both students and parents cannot be compared with the educational environment fifty years ago when the load students carried at school was far less than today’s burdens.  It was also an era when teachers did their jobs conscientiously; they taught and taught with commitment. And unlike today’s teachers, they did not stoop to the low, ugly but lucrative business of giving private tuition to their own students. 

If anyone deserves holidays they are school-going children. There is no denying they are being given holidays, but are they actual holidays? Holidays, especially end-of- term ones are grotesquely marred by loads of  homework that collectively amount to another home-based term of schooling. It makes the very idea of being ‘on holiday’ a joke. It’s no wonder that many describe educational authorities as ‘idiots sitting around growing horns’. 



 Homework is no guarantee of better performance 
Recent studies have shown that homework does not guarantee better performance in school. They also revealed that homework showed weak benefits to elementary grade students and only moderate progress for higher grades in secondary schools. However, the research found that homework was productive for older post-secondary students. The study also showed that some countries paid low emphasis on homework restricting it to just half hour per day. There is another worldwide development; the rapid growth in the multi-faceted computer technology and its easy availability that enable students to do their own research. The forecast now is that traditional homework would become obsolete soon. Embarrassingly at times aren’t today’s children more ‘in the know’ than their pre-computer era parents?   So why give homework at all? Our children are learning all the time.

Until traditional homework moves out, holiday homework, whenever it is considered a necessary evil, should not follow stereo type patterns that contribute little to learning. Instead, why cannot schools encourage students to read?  It’s better to read Batman through, Asterix, Tin Tin or Harry Potter rather than spend hours of struggling through loads of stuff called homework or playing limitless video games. Importantly, how deeply are today’s youngsters into reading even on line?  

Generally, neither students nor parents like the idea of homework; especially holiday homework.   In developed countries it has been found that excessive homework has resulted in school drop outs. In Sri Lanka there is a steady stream of drop outs owing to economic factors. Excessive homework may well exacerbate this situation if we are not sensible in dealing with the subject of homework.



Kids need holidays 
People in charge of education should realise that kids need time to be kids. The old adage, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ is not restricted to the Jacks of the world. They apply to the Jills too. And, what better time is there than holidays for children to be free among family and friends? In the past, trips, picnics, visiting distant places, relatives and places of interest were major arrangements made during school holiday when parents too adjusted their work agendas and their leave entitlements to fit in with these occasions that encouraged family bonding. Holiday homework rarely made the picture. However, times have changed from a ‘slow waltz’ lane to a ‘disco highway’ and planning prime family time during school holidays has become difficult. 

No school books or homework should be taken when on holiday travel that    is education in itself. A visit to a tea factory, a large scale vegetable growing area in the hills or a secession of mechanical paddy harvesting, a visit to a museum, zoo, (when did you last visit one with your kids?) places of historical interests, a hike into a reservation to observe fauna and flora in their natural habitats are part of learning. They are better avenues and the choices are practically limitless and much more absorbing and rewarding than regimentalised homework. School goers can have real life experiences during their holidays at home too: cooking, house cleaning, helping Father with chores reserved for the man of the family or just shopping for or with Mother.



Lesson in a botany class
Some modern educational gurus want homework of any kind banned altogether as it intrudes into family life that is an important factor in growing youngsters.

Banning homework is not a modern concept as some believe it to be. Half a century ago, I still remember our botany master, an Oxford graduate  raising his voice in class one day to address two of my colleagues at the back of the class fiddling with something that had nothing to do with botany “You two silly asses at the back, what do you think you are doing? School time is for leaning. Don’t you have things to do after school?” Free time outside school hours was recognised even then by teachers. Our botany master never gave us home work but was instrumental in producing excellent results. In fact in that era, homework was rare; and even if given once in a blue moon, hardly anyone bothered with it; neither did teachers follow up.

School-going kids need rest and relaxation.. Think of the daily grind your children are compelled to go through during school days. Getting there in time, problems in transport, heavy school work and heavier loads of homework, extra- curricular activities and other school activities that have little to do with learning per se, obligations at home and after the exhaustion  of the day the trepidation of pulling through a similar day tomorrow and thereafter... 
Students are already asking the question; “When we have enough and more to do in school, and obligations to meet at home; why are we given loads of homework?” 



Parents should be heard
Questions have been raised as to why parents do not take up the subject of excessive homework and holiday homework at school PTA meetings. After all that is the forum at which such subjects are brought up for discussion. A parent hit the nail on the head on that score. “When I find that my boy is being sidelined in school activities by some of his teachers because I do not send him for their private tuition classes,  how advisable is it to bring up a matter of homework at a PTA meeting? They’ll make life more miserable for my little fellow. Which parent would want that?

Homework of any variety hangs on the same rack as the other messy ones in education. And this ever-swelling issue has been sitting around in the cabinets of educational authorities and governments for a long, long time. To kick start this dormant scenario; why not ask parents and the people of the country what they feel about holiday homework among other matters that have contributed to the present educational litter?   People need to be given an opportunity to be heard. A survey using a simple questionnaire would bring answers. Isn’t ours still a democracy in which the people have a right to be heard? 
 
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