DEBATE: Should homework be abolished?

Jen Hogan and Arlene Harris debate whether or not schools should scrap homework. Have your say in our poll at the end of the story.

Research is showing that homework is unhelpful for academic development as children are tired and bored, says Jen Hogan.

ASK any parent of a primary-school aged child what part of the day they dread the most and you can be pretty sure that homework time will feature prominently. Trying to convince a child, who has already spent several hours learning and seated at a desk, that they should continue their day in a similar fashion once they return home is difficult at the best of times, and near impossible at others. Add a project into the homework equation and it’s enough to bring the most resilient of parents out in a cold sweat!

Reluctance, resistance and resulting arguments are the regular flavours of the day here on school afternoons when the troops arrive home, laden down with school books and in the mood for playing and chilling rather than more work. Family time, time with their friends and even after school activities are all impacted by the surrender of our evenings to homework. They’re tired, I’m tired — it’s a daily battle and a near pointless one too I believe.

Jen Hogan

Several studies carried out in the US, Australia and the UK have suggested that homework is not only an unnecessary evil but may prove counter-productive and restrict academic progression as children become bored and unhappy. The same studies have suggested that no proven non-academic benefits, such as teaching self-discipline or instilling a strong work ethic, exist either which leads me to wonder why our children have to do homework at all.

Ireland is on course to be the fattest nation in Europe by 2030 — an honour we’d rather not have bestowed upon us. According to Safefood.eu, four out of five children in Ireland are not meeting the recommended guidelines of 60 minutes physical activity per day. That’s quite a shocking statistic and in an age of a looming obesity crisis, one has to ask if the freeing up of our children’s afternoons might allow them to engage in more free play outdoors with friends — my generation’s main exercise.

And it’s not just children’s physical health that benefits. Children’s mental health also benefits from having the time and freedom to play.

Today’s society is time poor and evening homework just adds to that problem. Many homes have two working parents and family time is limited and extremely precious. No one wants to spend that time arguing and coaxing reluctant children to do homework when really the family would prefer to spend enjoyable time in each other’s company, relaxing and unwinding and hearing about each other’s day.

I have sat in the company of mothers (though I am very sure fathers do it too) as they completed parts of their children’s homework, just to speed things up and avoid further arguments. I’ve seen beautiful creations wholly made by parents submitted as a child’s project — it makes you question the validity of the whole situation.

Academic progression is undeniably important and understandably parents like to know how their children are managing at school. Some might argue that homework gives parents valuable insight into how well their child is coping with different areas of the curriculum. Homework, however, is not the only means of keeping abreast of this. If schoolbooks and copies were to come home on set days during the week, parents could take the opportunity to look through them and support and tackle any visible difficulties in a more relaxed manner — and as they arise.

The development of our children in every regard is the most important thing. Homework just adds to their stress and frustrations after an already long day. Giving our children back their evenings gives them and us the valuable time to help them live and enjoy a more all-rounded childhood.

Homework can help children grasp and reaffirm what they learned that day. Shy children, in particular, benefit from homework, writes Arlene Harris.

Like every child in the world, when I was a kid I hated homework — after a long day at school, the last thing I wanted to do was open my books again at home and rehash whatever tedious topic we had learned in class.

But there were times I actually enjoyed it — writing an essay, opening a clean page of a copy, and, with a freshly sharpened pencil, being able to complete whatever work had been assigned to us that evening. It was an accomplishment coupled with a wonderful feeling of joy when I finally finished and was free to do as I pleased.

Homework is seen by many as a pointless exercise and has no doubt been the cause of many a heated argument, but I believe it in essence it is a good thing.

Arlene Harris

Firstly as a means of reaffirming something which was taught earlier in the day at school; because we all know how quickly a lesson, a new word, an equation, or an explanation can float off onto the breeze as soon as the school bell has rung. By completing an exercise at home, unaided by the teacher, it becomes more firmly rooted in the brain than simply listening to or watching it being worked out in class.

Practice makes perfect so by spending time on a specific exercise, be it reading, writing, or maths, outside the classroom, children are more likely to retain it.

This particularly applies to pupils who are quieter and more reserved than their classmates as they may not want to put their hand up and ask for an explanation — even if they really don’t understand something, shy children would often prefer to quietly pray they don’t get asked for an answer than to speak out and let the teacher (and classmates) know that they are totally in the dark.

So by having homework to do, the child can work things out in the comfort of their own home, away from prying eyes and under the guidance of their parents, something they would most likely not do unless specific exercises were assigned to them.

This is something I experienced with one of my own children. When he was younger, he would never have dreamed of asking a question in class but as soon as the books came out after dinner, he would let me know what aspects he didn’t quite grasp and together we would solve the problem. This resulted in him feeling like he had overcome a challenge and consequently he felt more confident going in to school the next day as he was fully prepared for the next round.

Yes, I totally get that by home-time, children have had six hours in school and should be allowed to throw their bags in the corner and forget about them until the following day. But it’s not as if most have had a terribly taxing time and, particularly in primary school, it’s not as if they get hours of work to do at home — in my experience, it has simply been a means of going over what they learned throughout the day.

Much has been made of the fact Dutch children don’t get homework and that they are the happiest on the planet, but in truth, they start getting small amounts of work to do at home from the age of six, which increases gradually as they get older — this doesn’t sound too dissimilar to our own youngsters.

So I believe that giving children just enough homework to reaffirm what they have learned in school is beneficial — it helps them to grasp and retain more, prepares them for studying in secondary school and gives them a little bit of structure and discipline.

If a child is struggling with the amount or content of homework given, then perhaps it is a time to have a chat with the teacher, but for the most part, I would say that a little bit of homework is a good thing.

By having homework to do, the child can work things out in the comfort of their own home, away from prying eyes

 

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