Homework: A Bane or Blessing?
“Humans are creatures of habit”! In spite of being conscious, thinking animals endowed with the faculties of attention, reason, intelligence, decision-making and executive functioning, we continue to take solace in the comfort of familiar practices adopted and established over time. We have skillfully employed our capacities to create set routines and schedules so that we can function effortlessly like hamsters running around repeatedly without questioning, reflecting or engaging in further analysis.
This approach has not spared the student, teacher and policies that frame the existing educational landscape. The ‘homework’ epidemic continues to span the entire range of students from pre-school to the university for decades. After spending an approximate of six to seven hours in a formal institute students are assigned ‘homework’ post-school hours. When schools or teachers do not indulge in this set routine they are often condemned and criticized. The British philosopher John Lock’s conception of children as “blank slates” (tabula rasa) to be written over has long been dismissed in educational theory. Nonetheless, we have adopted policies that make it mandatory to assign homework tasks on designated days for required time limits. This act presumes that all children learn the same thing at the same time in the same manner. It disregards the need for differentiation in tasks based on unique needs and interests and pays no heed to the personal agency of the student. This lays in stark contrast to 21st-century learning and teaching models. Moreover, homework is justified with reasons such as the building of positive study skills and habits, encouraging responsibility, independence, and further research, as well as bolstering academic achievement. Yet, Alfie Kohn in his extensive research on the effects of homework has failed to demonstrate any of the positive effects of homework as commonly held. In his book, “The Homework Myth”, Alfie Kohn states that homework is a “reliable extinguisher of curiosity”. Similarly, an in-depth investigation by the social psychologist, Harris Cooper, revealed a low correlation between homework and academic achievement.
Finland has reformed their systems such that children are rarely assigned homework. This has not hampered or led to any adverse effects on their student’s performance as demonstrated by research and data. However, the rest of the world has disregarded the existing abundance of research that shows no relation between homework and school performance or homework and study skills or homework and character building. It is puzzling as to why the work of several academicians not been instrumental in framing our approach to certain educational endeavours.
This may be rooted in our cultural projection of champions as people who are constantly ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’. Moreover, the media endorses a successful person as one who is always employed or busy with minimal time for leisure or rest. Further still, technology has allowed us to nurture the myth of continuous accessibility unrestrained by limits of space and time. Hence we believe that as long as our kids are working they must be learning, regardless of what and how they work. We tend to accept that ceaseless engagement is a prerequisite to success. Therefore the integration of the mind, body and soul in education has been dismissed by a system that emphasizes the acquisition of knowledge as its sole purpose. We have overlooked the need for exercise, rest, leisure and social commitments, and content ourselves with illusory conceptions of education. Stuart Brown, a researcher of play, defines play as time spent without purpose. Still, ‘play’ as a means to learn is often frowned upon as it lacks any concrete manifestations.
In reality, homework is often considered a nuisance for all stakeholders involved. It leads to additional work for the teachers who are already submerged with myriad responsibilities. Moreover, instead of fostering further learning, homework kills the child’s inquisitiveness and enthusiasm, often eating into their time and resources reserved for other activities and interests. Lastly, homework requires the parents to take on the role of an invigilator, overstretch their boundaries to accommodate the presumed learning, and often impairs their relationship with their child.
The current century demands a restructuring of homework! Homework needs to be redefined to kindle the passion for learning, to create spaces and opportunities for collaboration and to foster vulnerability, risk-taking and experimentation among students. Educators need to determine if the homework is aligned to their adopted learning theory and must use it to encourage active participation from students. In the current age of differentiation, one cannot possibly expect the same assigned homework to benefit all students equally and fairly. Educators must strive to energize the students to further research and inspire extended learning targets beyond school hours rather than merely impart their agendas.
Similarly, other stakeholders need to refine their stance. Parents should break away from being victims of established norms and stop reinforcing the culture of private tuition classes. Instead, they can use their influence to question the real purpose behind homework and the degree of its impact. Likewise, students have to become the change makers that education is training them to be and create a revolutionary approach to take charge of their learning. After all, education must encourage students to be equal participants in the process and advocate their needs, interests and goals.
It is now time to break out of the herd mentality and debate certain existing practices, by advocating for reforms that lead to greater value for all involved. However, this can only be achieved when we dismiss this culture of passive acceptance and instead take greater responsibility as active protagonists!