Advice Column, Child, Education, Parenting, Tween & Teen

Are homework and assessments all bad?

Recently a lot has been said about the pressures of homework and assessments especially on prep school level.

Many schools have subsequently adapted their policies around homework and assessments – either ‘banning’ homework or drastically lessening the load.

The question that should be asked is not whether a learner should be given homework or be assessed. It should rather be how these two very valuable and necessary aspects of education should be managed to best benefit learners.

It is important to remember why children are encouraged to ‘work at home’ ie. do homework. In a normal school day, a learner will be exposed to new information in at least four subjects. Keep in mind that all this new information is introduced in periods ranging between 30 minutes and an hour – a short time to really process and understand what you have learnt. For the average child, this information will most probably go in the one ear and out the other with little retention. 

That is where the value of learning or revising at home comes in. If all children were naturally self-disciplined with a love for learning, this would not be an issue. Children would then revise by themselves, because they would be so interested in what they have learnt at school that day, that they would naturally want to talk about it and revise it.

Sadly, we all know that this is not true. Most children won’t spare a moment’s thought about what they have learnt once they have left the classroom. This is why teachers have no choice but to give homework in order to ensure that crucial concepts are engrained in children’s brains. 

What can however be questioned is the type and amount of homework given. The idea behind working at home should be to further establish an understanding of concepts learnt at school.  Homework should not be something that is hastily given just before the end of the period. Teachers should upfront give learners a purposeful exercises that will enhance what the children will learn on that given day.

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Homework has no benefit if it wastes time and is a mere repetition of tasks without any learning. For example: Grade 5 learners are introduced to equivalent fractions in Mathematics. Instead of giving a sheet of homework where leaners have to complete ten questions on the topic, rather ask them to find equivalent fractions in daily life. Take an apple or a slab of chocolate and divide in half and again in half and again in half and see that   Draw a diagram of your ‘experiment’ and bring that to school.

Grade 6 learners are learning about the difference between weather and climate. Video tape yourself explaining this difference using examples to a family member.

Unfortunately, not all homework can always be ‘experiments’. Sometimes you have to simply sit on your bum and practice.  

“Children should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic and better understand the world around them.” Maurice J. Elias, Edutopia

Another benefit of working at home is that problem areas can be highlighted before a learner is assessed on the topic. If your child for instance battles to complete his ten fractions problems, he will definitely battle to complete the assessment later on. Teachers should therefore plan homework to help learners grasp complex concepts. It goes without saying that the teacher should also check homework daily to be alerted to problem areas.

At its very essence – the purpose of homework is to teach leaners to think, apply their knowledge and solve problems. 

Maybe the solution to this very contentious problem is balance, as with everything in life.  Homework should enhance learning, without being senseless. Homework should be little steps, followed daily, to eventually complete an assessment successfully.

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