The age-old debate about homework has been argued in staffrooms across the country, in households between parents and has been the cause of plenty of childhood misery. But why do schools insist on making children continue to work outside of the classroom?
The primary teacher – Rachael Abbas
Assistant Head OF Primary at JESS Dubai
“There are many benefits of homework such as consolidation of new learning and allowing parents and families to be involved in the learning process, Abbas explains. “The key is not to make homework a battle.” But that is easier said than done, so it’s important to help parents to encourage their children to understand the importance of homework.
“Home learning is a great way of involving parents in their child’s learning and is also a good reference point for parents; children love nothing more than feeling like they have taught their parents something new,” says Abbas. “Overall, they have to convey the message that learning doesn’t stop when you walk out of the school gates and that consolidating your learning is key.”
Homework has continued to evolve over the years – no longer the chanting of spellings and the rote learning of times tables – as teachers strive to make it as engaging as possible. The introduction of iPads both in school and for home learning has helped Abbas says. “It may be a short quiz on an iPad, a game of snakes and ladders with a mathematical twist or a task to practice your spoken Arabic. We try to give a variety of different tasks so that it doesn’t become monotonous.”
When it comes to downtime for the kids, Abbas is in full agreement that it is vital for their wellbeing, but interestingly adds that children: “also need to value their learning and remember that without some consolidation their working memory won’t do its job. By treating home learning as another ‘ECA’ it can be seen as just as important as playing rugby or learning the piano.”
In line with this way of thinking, JESS has recently moved to a model of timed home learning, rather than task-based allowing home learning to reflect what students are capable of in the time allocated. “If they want to finish the whole task, no one will stop them, but we ask that it is noted how far they got in the allocated time,” Abbas concludes.
The secondary teacher – Mike Waller
Head of Secondary at JESS Dubai
As children move from primary to secondary, the pressures on learning change both in school and at home.
Waller explains that there are increased benefits of homework when it comes to senior school students. “Research suggests effective home learning habits have an impact that last into higher education,” he says. “The short-term benefits for older students include improved memory recall, reinforcement of learning and ultimately improved exam results.
In lower secondary years, students gain valuable soft skills, including time management, self-efficacy and problem solving, as well as setting up effective long-term study habits.” And far from parents thinking that they may be off the hook when it comes to their involvement in homework tasks, Waller says that’s not strictly the case.
“From a secondary perspective there should always be lots of parent support, asking questions and discussing the nature of tasks, but homework should always be completed independently by the student. This will ensure that the student is developing in line with the expectations of the teacher and also allows the teacher to better understand the progress of learning based on the level of performance seen in the task.”
Engagement seems to be a key focus in home learning, regardless of the age of the student. “Parents can look to engage with their child by reading some of the relevant content and discussing key concepts to encourage their child to view the work in a positive light,” Waller explains adding that: “When parents engage it sends a clear message to their child that homework has value.”
But what about the downtime that children, particularly with the hectic schedules they have in the UAE, require? Waller explains that finding a balance between ‘work and play’ is vital for everyone, but also says: “Part of the balance is students being able to plan and manage their time effectively. Part of their daily plans should include downtime and especially time to relax in the lead up to going to bed.”
A firm believer in the benefits of homework, Waller dismisses schools implementing a no homework policy. “We never know what is just around the corner, but while the real benefits of homework can be reaped by students I don’t think it is going anywhere,” Waller says.
And with that final comment, we can hear your collective moan from here.
ON THE FLIP SIDE:
THE PRAGMATIC PARENT
Trudi Drake, mum to Ethan (ten), Lana (eight) and Oshy (six)
I have mixed feelings on homework, certainly at a primary level. While I completely understand the need to nurture certain skills (daily reading for example), when the need to complete certain assignments creates tension and eats into valuable family time on the weekend, I do start to question its value. Trying to accomplish most homework during the week for busy (and tired) children – and working parents – is not always realistic. Having said that I think our children’s school has tried to get the balance right by setting optional extension exercises on top of compulsory tasks. As long as the tasks set are meaningful, enhance learning at school and not too onerous, I am supportive. Our kids do need the opportunity to get into good habits and to be able to organise their time at home, but only as long as we allow them to remain children who also have plenty of time to rest and play.
The STUDIOUS STUDENT
Alistair Murray, 14
I don’t mind doing homework, but I do think we get quite a lot of it. I play various sports and training and match fixtures take up a lot of my time, which means that fitting in my home learning assignments are always quite tricky. But I understand the benefits and why teachers set us things to work on after school. I do try to get my homework done as early as possible and as soon as I am given it as possible, that way it’s not hanging over me for the rest of the week. Instead I can carry on with all my extra-curricular activities happy that I’ve done all the tasks set. At the end of the day, it’s like anything, it’s about managing our time. The homework is going to keep getting set regardless of whether we like it or not, so it’s best to just accept it, deal with it and get it done as best you can.