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Homework continues to stir heated debate

Homework is the cause of numerous tantrums and arguments in many Kiwi households.

Parents simply want to encourage and spur on their offspring to ensure they do not fall behind their classmates, while their children want to do anything but schoolwork the moment the bell goes for the end of the day.

But homework should not be a chore.

With the shift from homework to home learning, there is now more emphasis on enjoyable activities with parents, caregivers and children at home.

For some, this change was seen as yet another softening of standards. For others, it was the end of a pointless exercise.

There is debate about whether or not homework helps.

Education expert John Hattie argues that it does not, saying that there is ‘zero evidence’ that homework helps to improve time management or study skills.

However, he acknowledges that though it is a waste of time for most, it does work for some children.

Of course, there can be exceptions. If students are lagging in mathematics, parents cannot rely solely on school lessons to help them catch up.

Emotional exhaustion

For some, homework is the way to catch up.

Some studies suggest that homework does improve grades, especially for older children. Others have said that though it does have some benefits, those are outweighed by the downsides – anxiety, boredom, fatigue and emotional exhaustion in children, and damaged family relationships.

Professor Hattie believes that it is more important for children to interact with parents rather than spending ‘some hours on some project. ‘

The key factor is interaction with parents. Children will gain nothing if interaction with parents turns into more time in front of the television or computer screen. It’s about making learning fun.

Many children hear the word ‘homework’ and turn off straight away.

Challenges work

Homework often has negative connotations, but by making learning fun, you will be surprised at the number of children who all of a sudden have a lot more interest.

Instead of traditional homework, pupils can be given challenges, including tidying their bedrooms for a school term and planning and making a meal for their parents.

If children are doing this at home because they are excited about it and want to do it rather than filling in some worksheet or doing something so removed from their everyday lives, then, I think it is fantastic.

They are switched on to learning and can see learning in a whole different context.

However, there will still be some homework that needs to be done each night – like reading and spelling for about 10 minutes.

You cannot assume that a child will go home at 330 pm and sit in an orderly environment to do a set task on a given day and be supported by a parent and bring it back the next day.

Sometimes, as much as that child might want to, the situation may not be conducive to do so. Sometimes too, parents can take the lead. That might mean parents saying, “Look, you are cooking the meal tonight; we are going to the supermarket and we have got this budget.’

That philosophy could turn the kitchen bench into an altar of education.

Diane Leggett is Director of the Centre for Educational Development at Massey University at its Manawatu Campus in Palmerston North.

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