The great homework debate

The great homework debate

As half term approaches, parents have had, or will be having, interim appointments to talk through their child’s transition into the new school year.

The same topic of conversation is always broached – that of homework. After many years as an International Head of School, it remains both an interesting and key topic.

There always seems to be parents that require their children to have more work at home and, at the other end of the scale, the same number of parents who require that their children have less, no matter how minimal the work sent home is or the age of their children. Parents are always very divided on the subject.

Indeed, this very topic has been debated for several centuries! Although historians cannot pinpoint who invented homework, the word “homework” dates back to ancient Rome, when followers of scholars were asked to practice their speeches at home. In the Middle Ages, scholars were encouraged to memorise key works at home.

Homework became popular throughout Europe in the 19th century. However, in 1930 in parts of America, it was banned as it was regarded as child labour! Worldwide, homework is now expected/included in school curricula, although the amount and for which ages is dependent on individual countries and the age of the child.

One can look at worldwide investigations of students’ homework and related success. Much quoted is the fact that countries such as Finland provide their students of all ages with little homework and are regarded worldwide as having one of the best and most successful education systems. Whereas the United Kingdom and America give proportionally larger volumes of work to complete at home and their students do not rate as highly in the education tables.

One might start by posing the much-debated questions: Does homework improve learning and, therefore, lead to more success? It is certainly a controversial area, especially in Portugal, a country where children from as young as six in National Schools are required to complete a sizeable amount of work at home. Or does homework take away time for relaxation to destress, and hinder intellectual growth and time for creative thinking?

As an experienced educational practitioner, one can readily appreciate both sides of the debate. However, a school should always define a realistic and quantifiable progression for homework, how it is given, the amount and how it will improve success. No work, be it class or homework, given without educational value is valid for any learner.

It is important to look at the age of the children receiving the work to be completed at home. For example, children from Reception class upwards love to take their reading books home to read aloud with their parents – a 10–15-minute daily exercise which should be thoroughly enjoyable and, at the same time, promote a sense of achievement and learning.

As a child progresses through Primary school, taking home daily spellings, reading and a research homework on a weekend is realistic, enjoyable and promotes self-worth, a desire to learn and a sense of achievement. In all cases, homework should be clearly explained to both the child and parents.

As Secondary school is reached, homework should continue to be purposeful by reinforcing classroom learning and, therefore, helping to develop personal study habits and lifelong learners. Homework should not be onerous.

Educational studies do clearly show that for Lower Secondary-aged students and above, when homework is given, students are more successful in external exams. This is with the proviso that a reasonable amount of homework is given and that it is purposeful to the student’s learning path.

Homework also enables parents to be involved in their child’s learning and to understand what they are learning at school. This is true for students of all ages.

Irrespective of a school’s policy, it is important that schools have a progressive and defined homework outline. Students should understand the purpose of tasks set for completion at home. The work should be interesting, engaging, relevant, and varied.

Individual ability must be considered so that it is manageable at home and does not become a burden. Correctly set homework is educationally value added and will lead to students wishing to know more and ultimately developing the skills required to become lifelong learners.

‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’ – Albert Einstein

By Penelope Best, Head of School,
Eupheus International School, Loulé