Issue of the month: Should homework exist?
Time Out Kids bravely tackles the great homework debate with education experts and the parents
1. Janice Farrell
Janice recently moved to Dubai from Ireland and has two children in primary school. She is a senior school teacher and is interested in the different way homework is disseminated here.
2. Emer O’Doherty
Emer, a Time Out Kids section editor, has two children and her youngest will start Year One in September. She worries about how he will react to having to do homework.
3. Katy Gillett
Katy is the managing editor of Time Out Kids. She was never a big fan of homework.
4. Helen O’Brien
A mother of two girls, Helen is a blogger and long-term expat. She feels that children should have more free time and that the basics can be covered in the classroom.
5. Caterina Perlini
Caterina is the head of marketing at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai.
6. Luke Osborne
Luke is currently the Head of Middle School at Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai, as well as a father of two sons.
7. Dr Saliha Afridi
As managing director of LightHouse Arabia, a UAE-based mental health and wellbeing centre, Dr Saliha is a therapist, workshop leader, presenter and media contributor.
8. Anushka Chugani
Anushka is director of operations at Hale Education and has provided mentoring and general academic support to A-level and IB students. She also helps pupils develop their time management and study skills.
9. Kate Vavpetic
Assistant Head of School at GEMS Bradenton Prep Dubai, Kate has worked at top-tier American high schools with extensive AP programmes for 18 years and taught AP French Literature for 11 years prior to arriving in Dubai.
Emer O’Doherty: The most comprehensive research on homework was carried out by professor Harris Cooper in 2006. He found a positive correlation between homework and achievement in older students, but a weaker relationship in younger grades. So our first question to throw out to the panel is does homework have a place outside the classroom?
Luke Osborne: It’s important to look at the age of the students who are involved in these studies into the traditional ways of doing homework. As a school, we interpret that traditional homework in primary school often has too low an impact to be worthwhile. Homework is sometimes just an opportunity for kids to engage with parents. Relationships are important in schools. If you invest in high quality relationships, there is an impact on learning.
Kate Vavpetic: Homework for younger kids is really challenging. Ten minutes of reading out loud at night ỳ which probably happens with most families who attend our schools anyway – is probably enough. At middle and high school level, the essence of homework and connection between parents and kids falls down. This is when we get into the debate about whether one hour or two hours is too much.
Emer: In Dubai, kids have longer school days than most of us do back home. Then there’s after-school activities and so on. Do you think the day is long enough already?
Helen O’Brien: I certainly think the day is longer here for children. I asked my child if she likes homework and she said that it makes her nervous: “I’m tired and if I get it wrong I could be making you unhappy”. Although, that could be another conversation altogether [laughs]. Some schools set children homework that they must do, extra things they can do and then more they can do if they want to. We do reading and spelling and hope that we can find time at the weekend to do the rest.
Janice Farrell: Kids have ten-and-a-half hours more school per week here than in Ireland and more on top of that with the homework. The first two weeks we were here, they were very tired while getting used to the length of the school day, so we do a little in the evenings. I’m torn, because, as a parent, I want them to have their downtime – they do extra-curricular activities, which is an education in itself – but as a teacher, I know they need to do their reading and spelling. I find the homework they’re given here is more applicable and suitable to their learning than back home. In Ireland it was almost for the sake of it. But here it isn’t always about sitting at the table doing homework – it might be going for a walk, for example.
Emer: Last weekend we had to go searching for shadows and I learned a lot of interesting things and it was fun to do. My daughter and I had some time with each other. But, as you said, is it just for the sake of setting homework?
Luke: It’s about the quality of homework – if you differentiate the work so that the topics set are accessible to everybody, then you’re making sure there’s a high impact on student learning.
Dr Saliha Afridi: It really depends on the amount of homework. What they recommend is ten minutes per grade (ten minutes for Grade One, 20 minutes for Grade Two, and so on), but that’s not what’s happening, usually. It also depends on whether the parent is working. Sometimes the parents come home at 7pm. We’re assuming every mother is at home ready to work with the child. We need to keep all these things in mind when we talk about homework.
To thrive, be engaged and fully attentive in the classroom, kids need to have unstructured time. I like when we’re hanging out and doing nothing, but there isn’t enough time, with ballet, piano and so on. It’s all happening on the drive down Sheikh Zayed Road. By the time you’re home, you’re tired. There’s traffic, you need to get groceries, do the cooking etc. I would say the number one thing we deal with in the clinic – we see children and adults coming in – is children with anxiety. We need to look at the whole picture here – the pressures on parents and children. It’s not that simple.
Anushka Chugani: I am a huge supporter of homework, but more so for high school students. They need to learn to manage their time. Teachers are chasing you up at school, but when you go to college they’re not. If they’re not doing it earlier, then how will they do it when they go to college? It’s about self-sufficiency. From that point of view, I think homework sets that style of practise and learning on your own.
Emer: Here in the UAE, there are so many cultures and so many different kinds of parents. Does that make it harder?
Kate: One of the things we struggle with, as an American school, is that there are certain things we have to teach. But we want to be different in the way we teach it.
Kids are taking more ownership of what they learn – we want them to understand numbers, for example, and not just be able to recite the timetable. We say: “You’ve chosen the American school and this is our philosophy, so you either buy in or go somewhere else.” It’s a hard line to take, but this is what we’re trying to do. Children need to be able to think, they need to reason – this is what they need when they go back home.
Anushka: I used to be a private tutor and a lot of parents work and do not get involved in what the children do at all. I had cases when we just had to get the homework done. That defeats the purpose of homework – it’s not just about having an assignment to turn in. It’s about learning to think and reason.
Janice: My son is in Year Three and gets project work and he loves it, but I’ve definitely seen project work that has been done by the parents. My son is going in with his project and I’m happy because he’s done it, and we walk in to find professional-looking work. There’s no way a child has done them. I don’t see the value in that. The parents want the perfect homework done, but at the expense of the children. You have to be careful with that. Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, I keep focused on the fact that it’s my son or daughter learning.
Luke: We’ve all seen Bad Moms [everyone laughs]. First of all, don’t do homework for your child. Set the conditions right so they can do it in the right environment. If you over-contribute, the teacher is going to get the wrong idea of their capabilities and not teach them as well as they could. Feedback is super powerful – not just teacher to student, but student to teacher, and parent to teacher. If it’s generating anxiety, parents have a responsibility to report that to the school. Teachers can act on that, fine-tune it and really improve things. Schools rely on that communication. If they don’t say anything and the parents’ reaction is to get a tutor in, then that’s a short-term fix with high long-term costs.
Dr Saliha: It’s culturally dictated, what homework means in different cultures and what they value in a lot of countries.
Emer: What do you think about homework clubs? For example, Leaps and Bounds exists to help the child who’s struggling, so if you’re finding the homework tricky you can go to one of these clubs for help.
Dr Saliha: I’ve referred people to these kinds of clubs. There’s a lot of tension between child and parent and maybe they couldn’t find a tutor, so they would send their child – whether they’re struggling or maybe they are a different kind of learner – to one of these clubs.
Emer: What about the child who loves to do extra work? Is there support for those kids?
Janice: That’s my eldest child. He loves doing extra work and project work. We were told there would be accelerated programmes, but that hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s up to me to go to the teacher and ask for it, but I think he has enough on his plate at the moment. Down the road I might need to push him a bit more, but I’m not a pushy mum.
Helen: I have an anxious child, so just trying to get her to do the homework is difficult enough. We do push her sometimes, but I’m not a pushy parent either. For us, in Australia, we didn’t really have a lot of homework. It was more about exercise, playtime, having independence – there were a lot more extra things, rather than just sitting down and writing with parents.
Janice: I don’t think there’s enough value being put on education outside the classroom, even as a teacher. I think it’s so important to give them that free time.
Emer: In Dubai, a lot of the schools are fee-paying and, because of the money they spend, parents try to change what the teacher is doing. Is this okay, do you think?
Dr Saliha: Over-qualified parents is what I call them. I feel like a “bad mom” here – I could have been in that movie. I can’t keep track with four kids – one’s tugging on that, one wants this. I think it makes me a mediocre mother when it comes to the classroom. Some mums are really on it and maybe they do know more than the teacher. There are a lot of mums who worked in their home country and don’t here, so their project becomes their child and their kids’ homework.
I’m very value-focused with my children and I really look at what value you are getting out of everything. Sometimes, you think: “Why am I doing it?”. My child was like: “I’ll never do Maths the day I don’t have to do it”. But I told her it is teaching her to do something she doesn’t like doing and how to do it well. That made sense to her. She’ll need that skill in the future – not necessarily Maths. It’s about habit forming, too. So we sit at the table and all come together and I bring my own homework. It’s more about habit and ritual. The process is very important. I’m not worried about the content.
Janice: Coming from a non-fee-paying school system, I can see the difference. Parents feel that they have more right to input. As a teacher, I would find that overwhelming and intrusive.
Helen: I also think sleep has a lot to do with how much children can take on. We made a decision to keep our child back a year because she was born on August 31. Come 6pm, every evening, she’s ready for bed. I can’t imagine what next year will be like when she starts to get homework. Not being a teacher myself, I don’t know how the teachers manage that, giving them more work and teaching children who are tired.
Dr Saliha: The research is sound and clear about the things you need for optimal brain functioning and learning. We get parents saying their child has ADHD – we ask when he or she is sleeping. You need to sleep. It really is something people are struggling with, especially with technology and scree time. It’s something we need to look at holistically.
You need connection with family members, you need sleep time, downtime, mindfulness, unstructured playtime. These things you need for brain functioning and it’s hard to fit everything in.
Emer: Speaking of screen time, quite a lot of homework is done on devices now, even as young as Year Five. What do you think of this?
Dr Saliha: I tell parents anything that needs to be done on a screen, do as soon as you get home. That then allows the brain time to do what it needs to do before bed. That’s a whole other debate, by the way - tablet or no tablet.
Emer: I’d like to ask everyone here to share their views on the value of homework . For me, it’s connecting me with my daughter. I thought it was so I could find out what she’s doing at school, but it’s not, it’s so we can be together.
Janice: Yes, it’s contact time. I’m not working at the moment, so sitting and doing their homework with them is great.
Kate: Speaking as a mum, I would say the same thing. But there’s also a sense of accomplishment and that feeling of pride.
Anushka: Again, student skills. Building that skill of doing things on your own, especially later on. Also the process of sitting together and doing your homework, even if it’s on the iPad. It’s fostering a relationship.
Dr Saliha: Personal responsibility. If I had to pick one. It’s about building good habits that they’ll need for the rest of their life. Discipline.
Anushka: Also what you [Dr Saliha] said – learning to do something you don’t like.
Luke: Quality homework has a high impact on learning.
Helen: Discipline. Instilling into this child that she can do it, that she shouldn’t be scared of it.
Time Out Kids' Coffee Club with The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai at Jumeirah Beach Residence
This Time Out Kids Coffee Club took place at the beautiful Jumeirah Beach Residence property in the intimate confines of the Blue Jade restaurant’s private dining area. This month, on Monday March 6, from noon to 2pm, we’re heading to the Etisalat Beach Canteen, part of Dubai Food Festival, behind Sunset Mall, where all our readers are welcome to come and join in the debate for free, as we tackle the topic of keeping our kids safe online. See you there!By Time Out Dubai Kids staff
Time Out Dubai,