We all hate homework, but is it really important that we do it? Is doing homework good for us or is it simply a waste of time? This debate sets out the arguments on both sides.
Homework is an assignment that students are given to do at home. It might be a continuation of classwork or a new piece of work. It may also be preparation for the next class. The amount of homework school students get varies a lot not only from country to country, or from school to school, but often from day to day. For most the amount of time spent on homework gets longer as we go through our school lives. At the start of primary school we get almost no homework but it is often several hours a day by the time we finish secondary school.
The most important thing in this debate is not so much how much time is spent on homework but whether that time is wasted. If it is time well spent then having a lot of homework to do may not be a bad thing. The debate should therefore consider what else school children would do with that time. Another angle would be to look at whether school could replace homework with something that makes better use of time. For example in Britain the education secretary (the member of the government who controls education across the whole country) wants schools to scrap homework and instead have longer days in school.
When out of school we should have time to ourselves
Time is valuable. We all need some time to ourselves. School already takes up a lot of time and it is necessary to have time which does not involve concentrating on learning. Education is not the only important activity in everyone’s day; physical activity, play, and time with family are just as important as all teach life skills just in different ways. The internet makes it possible to be learning at home, there are even many computer games that help with learning. Homework clashes with these other activities. It can damage family relationships as it means parents have to try and make their children do their homework.
We should expect to get a certain amount of homework per day and build other activities around the homework. Homework can be a useful part of time with family as it provides a chance for parents and other relatives to take part in schooling.
Homework takes up class time
Homework does not only take up time doing the homework at home but also takes up time in class. First there is the time that the teacher takes when explaining the task. Then more time is taken going through the homework when it is done and marked. This time could be better spent engaging with the class to find out what they do and don’t understand. The answer to this is to have more time in class rather than boring homework.
When homework does take up time in class it is helpful for learning. And when it does not then it does not harm the classwork. Homework aids classwork by providing a space for those who have not finished the work to catch up and by helping us to remember what we did in class.
Homework wastes teachers time
We are not the only ones who take a lot of time on homework, our teachers do as well. The teacher needs to design the homework, explain it, mark each piece individually, and tell everyone what they got right and wrong. If all this is not done then the homework loses its value as we need to be told individually what our mistakes are to be able to learn from homework. Teachers could as easily use the classwork to find out who knows what they are doing and who are making mistakes and it would save them time.
Teachers will need to mark and go through work whether it is classwork or homework. It is better that the teacher should spend their time in class teaching so leaving practising the methods taught to homework.
Homework puts students off learning
Especially if we get too much homework it can take the enjoyment out of learning. No matter how engaging the teacher is in class homework will almost certainly be stressful, boring and tiring. It is simply much harder to make homework engaging and interesting as it is often done on our own. We know that there is no direct link between how much homework is set and grades. Studies done on this come to different conclusions so teachers should only set homework when they are sure it is needed. When we only get homework occasionally we will consider that piece more important and a better use of time.
Whether homework puts us off learning will always depend on what the homework we are given is. Tasks that involve no interaction, or are not engaging will discourage learning. But homework could also mean reading an interesting book, having to find something out, create something, or doing a task with family. Homework can be as varied as classwork and just as interesting.
Homework teaches us to learn on our own
The main aim of education is to prepare us for the rest of lives. Homework is teaching us a key skill that we will need in the future. When we do homework we are learning to work on our own, the discipline to get the work done without the teacher’s prompting, and when we come up against difficulties we learn how to overcome them without our teacher’s help. Millions of people work for themselves (self-employed), or work from home, they are using exactly the same skills doing homework teaches us. This is not a waste of time.
Most homework is simply fulfilling a task that has already been explained so not truly teaching you to work on your own. Working on your own means setting your own targets, and working out how to overcome obstacles.
Questions to think about and discuss: Do your parents ever work at home, is your homework similar? Have you found learning on your own to be helpful, or is it better when the teacher is there?
Doing our homework means we are taking responsibility for ourselves
We are the ones who gain from learning so we should take responsibility for some of our own learning. We can take responsibility by doing homework. When we don’t do our homework we are the ones who suffer; we don’t get good marks and don’t learn as much. We also lose out in other ways as taking responsibility means learning how to manage our time and how to do the things that are most important first rather than the things we most enjoy like playing. Homework then does not waste time; it is part of managing it.
The same kind of responsibility is given to us no matter the kind of work. When given classwork we are responsible for completing it rather than playing around. The only difference at home is that it is our parents telling us to work not our teachers.
Questions to think about and discuss: Does doing your homework make you feel more responsible? Do you put doing your homework before taking part in other activities?
Homework is needed to finish classwork.
We should think of homework as being a continuation of our classwork. Not everyone in the class works at the same rate so it is necessary for teachers to give anyone who is falling behind the chance to catch up. If this was done in class those who are faster would have nothing to do during this time, which would be a real waste of time. Homework then allows those who are behind to take as long as they need to catch up with the rest of the class.
Teachers should not set classwork expecting that the class will have to finish that classwork as homework. Students who are falling behind should receive more attention from the teacher during class to make sure that all the members of the class can move at the same speed.
Questions to think about and discuss: Is finishing classwork the best use for homework?
Homework makes sure we remember what we have learnt
One way we learn is by repetition, another is by doing things, when doing homework we learn in both of these ways. When we are taught a method at school, such as how to do a type of sum, then we need to practice using that method to make sure we know how to so that we can remember it. If we just learn the method and don’t practice it we will soon forget how we do it.
We don’t spend all of class time learning new methods so there should be time in class to practice any new method that is taught. Once some repetition has been done in class how much more do we really need at home? If we have not successfully learnt the method in the class then we will be simply repeating the mistake.
Questions to think about and discuss: Can you remember a method you were taught last year? Are there other methods you were taught but you can no longer remember how to do? Why do you think you can remember one but not the other?
Every afternoon, when he gets home from school, Diego spends up to three hours doing homework. He often finishes his after-school studies just in time to eat something, shower, and go to bed. He has begun to show signs of stress. The 10-year-old’s sisters, Lara and Nadia, aged 12 and eight respectively, have much less homework, although they attend the same state school in Tres Cantos, a new town around 25 kilometers north of Madrid.
The boy’s teachers say he gets good grades, performs well in exams, and has above-average reading skills. But when his mother, Eva Bailén, talked to the school about the amount of homework he was being given, his teachers told her that he should be given 90 minutes to complete his tasks, “and if he doesn’t finish them, assume the consequences.”
I wasn’t against homework until I saw my child crying because he hasn’t been able to go out and play”
Eventually, she decided to start a petition on Change.org calling for standardization of homework within the Spanish education system. So far it has garnered 100,000 signatures. Bailén points out that at present, there are no state regulations on the amount of homework children can be given, and the matter is left up to teachers. “I am not against homework, and I think that children should do something, rather than just sitting around in the afternoons. That was until I saw my child crying because he hasn’t been able to go out and play,” she says.
Diego’s case highlights some of the problems with the Spanish education system: too much homework; lack of coordination between teachers; and repetitive, mechanical tasks that fail to take into account each child’s ability. This has led to tensions at home, because the family’s free time is conditioned by what teachers have decided. Some children no longer want to study or go to school, while others, who are from less privileged backgrounds and do not get the support of their parents, fall behind in their studies.
The risk of inequality
Some experts say there is a growing body of evidence to show that more homework time does not translate into better results. “Students who get support at home get better results, but not because they do more homework, but because they have a culturally enriching environment,” says educationalist Enric Roca.
A recent report by the OECD’s educational standards body, PISA, highlights this: “This is a call to governments and schools to focus on under-privileged children, who sometimes do not even have a place at home to do their homework,” says PISA analyst Daniel Salinas.
This is one of the arguments that the Spanish Confederation of Parents’ Associations (CEAPA) is using to call for a ban on homework being used to give end-of-year grades: “It creates tremendous inequalities, because children often cannot do their homework without help, and parent’s ability to do so depends on their own education, socio-economic level, schedule and their ability to explain concepts,” says CEAPA president Jesús Salido.
“A reasonable time limit has to be set,” says Luis Miguel Lázaro, professor of educational theory and history at the University of Valencia. He suggests a maximum of 40 minutes for junior high school students, and around an hour for high-school pupils. “But the key here is that teachers work together: you can’t have one teacher assigning a huge workload as though their subject was the only one that counted,” he says.
Homework is essential for a child to fully understand what he or she is being taught, says Luis Carbonel, the president of Concapa, which represents the parents of children attending Catholic Church-run schools. “They should be doing homework from the time they start school, but it needs to be proportionate to their age: a couple of hours a day in high school, but much less in junior high. One thing is to be told something, and another is to understand it by doing exercises and studying, or memorizing things at home,” he says.
Another reason why growing numbers of teachers, educationalists and parents are questioning the value of homework is that it appears to have no impact on Spain’s poor performance in PISA rankings. Finland, where schoolchildren spend the least time doing homework, far outperforms Spain.
Alfonso González, a biology teacher in Murcia and father of a high school student, recently sent a letter to his fellow teachers, which was later made public, saying that he had done much of his daughter’s homework for her: “She would do the first exercise, and I would make sure she understood what she had to do, and then I would do the other exercises. Thanks to this, my daughter has played the guitar, practiced canoeing, gone out to play with her friends, and been happy,” he say. “She is now getting excellent grades, and works on her own.”
González adds that he and his wife spent more time working with his daughter than most parents are able to. Recent surveys in the United States seem to support his approach, and show that there is no correlation between the amount of time elementary and junior high school students spend doing homework and their academic results.
Laura Bermúdez, a teaching tutor at a school in Murcia, says that only children who want to take work home do so, and that there are no differences in grades. That said, she believes that homework helps children develop the habit of studying.
The PISA report shows that a maximum of four hours a week is sufficient to improve students’ grades. “It makes no sense for children of elementary and junior high school age to be doing more homework than the OECD recommends for 15-year-olds,” says Eva Bailén.
“I don’t remember doing homework when I was small. I later learned that around that time, 1984, the education minister, José María Maravall, had banned elementary schools from issuing homework,” says Bailén. “If I didn’t do homework and got excellent grades, and went on to become a telecommunications engineer, what sense does it make to put my kids through the mill?” she asks.
“Homework is invading my right to a family life”
Overloading children with homework isn’t just of questionable educational value: growing numbers of parents say that it is damaging family life. Abel de Céspedes, a father of two children aged four and 10, appealed against his son’s failed grade for not doing his homework, arguing that: “Homework is invading my right to a family life, because they are extending the school day.”
The tax inspector, who is separated with joint custody, cut a deal with his eldest son’s school last year whereby the boy does as much homework as he can, voluntarily, and without it contributing to his grades.
“I’m not against homework,” he says, “but I want to be able to organize my home life. If my boy did all the homework he is given by his teachers, most of the three hours or so I have with my children after work would be spent on their homework.” But this year, the school changed its policy, and his son failed his Spanish language course, despite excellent exam results, because of the negative grades accumulated for not doing his homework. After he appealed to the local education board, the school backed down.
“I am fine with the school giving my kids homework, but it shouldn’t be obligatory. When they have exams, I make sure they study. But outside of school hours, I have a right to bring up my children as I see fit,” he says.