Every school day brings something new, but there is one status quo most parents expect: homework. The old adage that practice makes perfect seems to make a lot of sense when it comes to schoolwork.
However, while hunkering down after dinner among books might seem like a natural part of childhood, there’s a rising controversy on whether homework contributes to academic success.
“Homework is all pain and no gain,” says author Alfie Kohn. In his book ‘The Homework Myth’, Kohn points out that no study has ever found a correlation between homework and academic achievement, and that there is little reason to believe that homework is necessary in high school. In fact, he argues that it may even diminish interest in learning. His recommendation is that the “default” setting for schools should be no homework, but that if evening work was assigned on occasion, it better be for a good reason. That means repetitive practice problems from 500-page textbooks should be tossed out the window.
Going by Koln’s arguments, students should be allowed to choose to take their favorite parts of school home. He believes that if this were done, early control over their education would continue to serve them well into high school and universities; they would feel better equipped to manage their time and approach professors with questions. However, when examined critically, this would create an imbalance in learning. If learners only choose to do what they can and like, what happens to what they can’t do and dislike? We may just as well invite the learners to draw their own curricula.
As controversial as Koln sounds his arguments are quite compelling. Truly, if you’ve ever had a late night argument with your child about completing homework, you probably know first-hand that homework can be a strain on families. In an effort to reduce that stress, a growing number of schools in the west are banning homework. Can this really happen in Rwanda where, like in other African countries, students are never self motivated and lack the reading culture?
Life is filled with things we don’t like to do, and homework teaches self-discipline, time management and other nonacademic life skills. However, Kohn challenges this popular notion: “If kids have no choice in the matter of homework, they’re not really exercising judgment, and are instead losing their sense of autonomy.” True, but in our set up where the reading culture is poor and learners feel that schools are prisons, how can we ever achieve anything without giving learners something to engage them? Our cultures are totally different; our children are not as liberated as those in the west. Implementing Kohn’s proposal in Rwanda will definitely be a process natured from birth.
Homework also comes in handy as a supplementary activity to help in coverage of subject content. Teachers usually have a lot to teach in a very short time and school time is not enough to indulge learners in various learning activities. To be realistic, 50 minutes are barely enough for a teacher of English or mathematics to break down the content; evaluate and re-teach. An extended outside classroom activity is surely needed. The issue here should not be on whether homework is necessary, but rather in the quality of homework.
Another reason we continue to dole out mountains of homework is our obsession with national or final exams. The standards and accountability craze that has our students in its grip argues for getting tougher with children, making them do more work so that we can score higher in national and international assessments. In light of this, Kohn argues that homework should be about learning and not winning. Right, but what is a world without competition? Plus, who says there is no learning when homework is given? It might also suffice to say that the pressure put on teachers by parents and the performance contracts they sign with some of the schools would justify their craze for results.
Conclusively, while it is debatable whether parents would be delighted if teachers reduced the amount of homework their children are getting, we must acknowledge that the quality rather than quantity of these assignments needs to be addressed. Quality homework contributes to academic success. Let’s reduce the amount and improve on quality.
The writer is a lecturer at The Adventist University of Central Africa