Katy Crawford, aged 8, stopped doing homework altogether about a year ago when she moved to Dubai from the UK with her family and started at a new school. Why? The school had just implemented a ‘no homework’ policy based on research that showed that homework was of little or no benefit to primary school children.
Now Katy and her classmates were in a small minority of primary school children who had plenty of free time after school to spend on extra curricular activities, playdates or simply relaxing and having a bit of ‘me’ time. Reactions among families at the school were mixed, with some parents welcoming the controversial idea and others fretting about the long-term effects of not reinforcing academic learning after school. These parents were also preparing to tutor their children after school.
Katy’s dad, Kevin says: “While we were quite happy that Katy was free to enjoy her childhood without the additional pressure of homework, there were other parents at the school who did not feel the same. We made the most of what we knew could only be a temporary phase in her life by getting her to do other things like learning to ride or play piano after school, and the opportunity to do these enriched her world outside of just academics.”
Parents who do, on the other hand, want their children to be getting into the regular discipline and revision that homework provides will be interested in the results of research which while mixed and inconclusive, has shown for the most part that kids benefit from homework. Of the 20 studies that have been conducted since the 1960s, 14 show that students benefit from doing homework, while six studies show no real benefit.
Alfie Kohn, who writes and lectures about parenting and education, and has written some 12 books has a different viewpoint. According to him, homework leads to frustration and exhaustion as well as a possible decline in the child’s interest in learning. He adds “For younger students, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (and how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.”
Kohn says that even though educators are aware that the pros of homework outweigh the cons, teachers will decide to give children homework simply so that they will have something to do every night. And according to Kohn, most parents assume that as long as their children have lots to do every night, that the kids must be learning something. “Most of what homework is doing is driving kids away from learning,” says education professor Harvey Daniels, with Kohn adding that with kids viewing homework as something to be gotten through, it impacts their love of learning negatively.
Adam Gopnik, author and father of two at the elite Dalton School in New York says, “There’s very little evidence that doing homework makes kids smarter. Even if it did, there are values other than achievement. For example, let’s be curious.”Jessica Bagby, head of the elite Trinity school in New York acknowledges the burden of homework. “We realize the pressures on them, and to the degree that we’re complicit, we need to own that.”
So what should schools be doing instead? Kohn suggests that school principals educate themselves about the research for a start, and be aware of what it shows, which is that “There is no reason to believe that children would be at any disadvantage in terms of their academic learning or life skills if they had much less homework, or even none at all.” He recommends that the fundamental expectations in schools should be changed so that “students are asked to take schoolwork home only when there’s a reasonable likelihood that a particular assignment will be beneficial to most of them. When that’s not true, they should be free to spend their after-school hours as they choose.”
The reality is that in the UAE the majority of schools will continue to give students homework, and that students will have to cope with a considerable workload every night in addition to extra curricular activities and demands from school. So when Brian Gill, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corporation gives his reasons for being pro-homework, it might be a good reminder as to just why your kids are having to spend hours studying even after school.
According to Gill “One, it extends the work in the classroom…Second it develops habits of independent study. Third, it’s a form of communication between the school and the parents. It gives parents an idea of what their kids are doing in school.” Many parents also want their kids to have homework – they want their children to be ready to compete for spots in the best universities and part of that is through the preparation of homework.
But are children being more burdened with homework now than ever before as a result of a more competitive and global playing field? Gill says that for children in early grades in schools in America, homework time has overall increased by 20 minutes a day from zero. But in high school in America, the average appears to be about four hours a week, which is not a lot.
For parents in the UAE it might be a different scenario, and many complain about how much their children have to get accomplished in the hours after school and before bed. Says Marie Duke, mother of a14-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, “Do most working adults take home two hours of work that they have to complete for the next day? It just doesn’t seem fair!” Other parents are stressed by the fact that the bar seems to have been raised on the expectation level for a lot of assignments. “We’re all stressed!” says Hiba Ansari, mother of a ten-year-old, adding, “The assignments my daughter gets from her teacher no child her age would be capable of doing on their own! What on earth are teachers expecting from our children?”
Ansari’s comment ties into the link between the age of the child and the benefit he or she will gain from doing homework. Studies suggest that primary school children don’t seem to get any real benefit out of spending their time on homework, with no relationship between doing homework and doing well in school. That however seems to change in middle or secondary school, with positive outcomes increasing until children are doing between an hour to two hours of homework a night, but no more.
If you’re concerned about how much time your child is spending on doing homework (too much or too little), here’s a rule of thumb formed by the National PTA and the National Education Association in the US, which recommends that children should be spending ten minutes on homework per night, as per their grade or year level. Which means, if you’ve got a child in year one, then it should be ten minutes of homework per night and so on.
Guy Winch, psychologist, who also is not pro-homework has a reminder for parents: play is a crucial part of any child’s development and if your kids are spending time only on the hamster wheel of homework and have no time for exercise, social interaction or play, or importantly, to gather round for a family meal (essential especially for pre-teens), this can have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of your child.
Three ways to take control of too much homework
Imagine what an extra two hours to unwind, play, do another activity or see a friend every day after school could do to improve the quality of your child’s life.
If you think your child is getting too much homework, here’s what you can do.
1. Inform the teachers and the school. Most parents just aren’t aware that homework contributes so little to their child’s academic achievement.
2. Share the homework research with your child’s teachers and principal. They are often equally unaware of the facts and may be open to making changes.
3. Create allies within the system by speaking with other parents and banding together to address the issue with the school.