Homework gets poor marks with our President



Pity Michael D wasn’t in the Aras when I was at school. A president who declares that homework should be banned  would have been a hero not just at my school but among the entire nation.

Teacher and columnist Jennifer Hogan started the ball rolling recently when she declared that there was no benefit in giving homework to primary school children. Michael D chimed in to agree, saying that homework should be banned outside school and that children should be freed up for more creative activities at home. (Wonder what he had in mind.)

Then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, joined in, sitting on the fence saying that he thought some children get too much homework. (Who was it that said that too much homework equals bad teaching?). Homework policy is a matter for individual schools and it’s one of those thorny subjects, triangulated between teachers, parents and pupils, and bound to stir ongoing debate.

As a child I loathed homework that hung over me like a dark cloud at both primary and second level, especially at weekends. I wanted to be free after enduring a week of school where my resulting labours were, I imagined, an excuse for sadistic teachers to make red ink comments about my spelling (dire) and hand writing (illegible).

At home we weren’t allowed out to play until we had done our homework and, by that time in Belfast, it would inevitably have started raining. My sister, the biggest homework rebel, later changed her spots as a teacher.” Of course, it’s good for children to learn independently of their teachers,” she now says.

Loathe it as a form of slave labour for children or endorse it, but is homework helpful to learning?  “We don’t have any sort of definite evidence that there are clear benefits to homework,” says Jennifer Horgan. “In the past, I suppose, it made sense, because many families had one parent at home — and so you had somebody who could do it.” Maybe homework has become a hot topic just now given that more parents are returning to the office and no longer WFH.

At primary level, children are learning about learning and it’s easy to say that school work should stay in school, especially given how time-poor working parents can be. One benefit of homework, though, is that it can help parents find out how their child is progressing and help with learning difficulties or raise the matter with the teacher or via the parent/teacher association.

I don’t buy Jennifer Horgan’s argument that no homework levels the playing field for pupils. Some parents will always be more involved than others in their child’s development in areas from learning and use of educational toys to reading bedtime stories.

A small amount of homework at primary level has the potential to help the parent child relationship, I believe. It can also encourage relations between parents and teachers especially if backed by good communication from the school about its approach to children’s development and learning at different stages. But. please, please no homework at weekends, grown-ups get two days off to relax after the working week so why shouldn’t children?

Homework at secondary level is a different ball game, more at this stage about endorsing what has been learnt and about applying that knowledge. There are studies which show the benefits of homework  in terms of better academic results and higher scores in exams.

Maybe homework is a hangover from the bad old days of pedagogic teaching. Should it really be necessary if schools encourage self-confident children and where teaching inspires interest in subjects?  That’s a big if though, given the challenges in secondary schools where a lot of teachers’ time and energy is taken up with trying to maintain discipline.

Perhaps the argument should be amount of homework pupils get. An OECD study year of 15-year-old students shows Irish school-goers do an average of 7.3 hours of homework a week – well ahead of every single other country in the study, apart from Italy. Think about it, that almost the equivalent to a whole extra days’ work on top to  the school schedule and the business of growing up through the turbulent teen years. Having just under three hours homework a week doesn’t seem to have done the Finns any harm.

Meantime I haven’t done my online French course or finished my project for painting class.

Old habits die hard…

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