Has homework become 'a burden' on families?

No homework: Alicia Fong , 7, and Deni Ronay Sundin, 8, do their lessons at Sydney Montessori School, Gymea. Picture: Jane Dyson
No homework: Alicia Fong , 7, and Deni Ronay Sundin, 8, do their lessons at Sydney Montessori School, Gymea. Picture: Jane Dyson

It's a new school year and already debate is raging over homework.

Love it or hate it, homework has long been part of the school curriculum.

But there is renewed debate over how much homework children should do, when it should start or if they should do it at all.

It is common for NSW Department of Education pupils to start doing homework as early as year 1.

But some experts say homework, especially in primary school, is unnecessary, causes stress for parents and children, and may do more harm than good.

Justin Coulson is a psychologist and parenting expert who has banned his own primary-school aged children from doing homework.

He writes on his website that homework is a never-ending drama that causes tears and tantrums for parents and children alike and that research shows homework in primary school has a negative affect on learning outcomes.

He sends a detailed letter to his children's teachers each year explaining the reasons they will not be doing homework.

Apart from the lack of research showing any positive outcome for a child's learning, he said homework created stress and family conflict, was an extra burden on parents and was "uninspiring" for children.

"A 2002 study found a direct relationship between time spent on homework and levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disorders and issues," Dr Coulson writes.

"Homework diminishes the time our children have for other activities."

Dr Coulson said he encouraged his children to read every day after school and before bed, and complete a school-suggested project, as long as they found it interesting.

Sydney Montesorri School, Gymea, principal Raquel Charet said the school was part of a "no homework movement".

"As a parent and an educator, I can understand the strain that homework can put on family life for little or no educational benefit," she said.

Mrs Charet said research showed more than 10 minutes of homework a day before year 10 reduced learning outcomes.

She said a "no homework policy" led to better educational results, happier children and more content families.

Montessori school days are structured to "maximise the use of time and engage students on a deeper level so that they are able to have a well-balanced day", and children needed down time after school to take part in sporting and other activities or spend time with family and friends.

"Students are happier, educators see better results and families are able to spend time together."

'AN EXTENSION'

Montessori schools do not set formal tasks but see homework as an extension of a child’s interests. 

‘‘This work should be meaningful and of high interest to the child; it should have a purpose [and] can include a variety of activities, including household chores [which] can help the child develop language skills, cultural awareness ... and give the child a voice in family decisions,’’ the Montessori Australia website said.

The website said homework through primary years should consist of ‘‘real-life’’ activities that interest the child or served to bond them with parents.

These could include letter writing, story writing, library trips, reading aloud to your child, scanning the newspaper for stories, drawing objects in the home or neighbourhood, doing simple science experiments, counting money,  planning a shopping list or dinner menu, shopping for food, cooking,  setting tables, using a map, taking a walk, going on outings and playing music.

A homework habits study revealed students in Australia spent more time in front of the books after school but were below the international average.

A 2014 survey by the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed Australian pupils spent less than six hours a week doing homework in 2012 — 30 minutes more than in 2003.

During this time, the OECD average for student aged 15 was 5.9 hours a week. Students in Shanghai, China, spent up to 14 hours a week on homework.

THE GREAT DEBATE

 PROS

Helps struggling under-achieving students learn the material covered in the classroom.

Builds long-term memory.

Provides additional stimulation for high performers.

Develops independent practice.

Enhances life skills such as organisation and time management.

Eases time constraints by giving teachers more time to cover material not learnt in class.

Gives a teacher greater capacity to see a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

CONS

Can be difficult to encourage because of a lack of student motivation or laziness.

Can further isolate students with learning difficulties.

Distractions such as social media.

Noisy study space at home.

Clashes with extra-curricular activities, including sport.

Lack of resources.

Greater capacity to cheat/plagiarise when not under direct teacher supervision. 

Parents may not feel confident or capable in guiding and supporting their children, or are time-poor because of work commitments.

How many hours a week of homework would you expect your child to do? Or share your homework tips with other readers.

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