Primary school children often dream of not having to do any homework. On the other hand, parents can have nightmares when their children do not seem to have enough homework. They fear that lack of traditional homework practices will jeopardise the future academic success of their children.

OECD research confirms that the amount of time primary and secondary school children spend on homework varies hugely around the world depending on the pressures and expectations of each country. These studies indicate that 15-year-olds in Shanghai, China, spend an average of 13.8 hours per week on homework, dropping to 2.8 hours in Finland, which has one of the best educational systems.

The OECD average is 4.9 hours per week. Malta’s statistics on time spent by pupils and students on homework are not readily available. The launching of a national homework policy by the Ministry of Education is a good move to provide non-binding guidelines to both educators and parents on how they can help children achieve a healthy balance between work and other activities to promote their well-being. The guidelines in this policy document are similar to those in other OECD countries.

For many with ingrained perceptions of how much time students should spend doing homework, accepting the new guidelines may prove a challenging act of faith in the reasonableness of educators who, through research, can propose a pragmatic approach to homework for pupils and students.

There are some undeniable consequences of long hours of homework on children. Many parents admit that excessive homework at a young age has adverse effects on children including frustration, exhaustion and lack of time for other activities and family time and, unfortunately for many, loss of interest in learning. Other parents, however, argue that the primary school phase is a time for children to learn when they have good memories.

The debate on homework in secondary schools can be even more controversial. Many educators argue that there is substantial evidence that homework in secondary schools leads to higher academic achievement. The idea of giving a pupil or student homework is to consolidate what has been done in the classroom and to promote independent learning.

Another significant argument in favour of a reasonable amount of homework is that it helps parents to keep in touch with the child’s school work. Parents need to remember that they also have to support their child in doing their homework. They should provide a home environment with a minimum of distractions with TV and computer games switched off during homework time. Parents also need to keep in constant touch with their child’s teachers, especially when they realise that a child is having difficulty with homework.

Hopefully, the new homework policy will free enough time for children to engage in other character building and physical health activities. It is a sad reality that today’s children seem to spend an inordinate amount of time playing computer games or watching TV. Sporting, cultural and other social activities are often shunned with the result that many children are missing a golden opportunity to have a comprehensive educational experience in the first two decades of their lives.

A pragmatic approach to homework will always be an essential building block for children’s overall well-being.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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