Simon Marcus Gower , Contributor , Jakarta | Sun, 11/09/2008 11:01 AM | Supplement
“School should be school and home should be home!” — The words of a father with a child in an Indonesian, national primary school here in Jakarta.
“Homework in primary school is unnecessary but it is good in high school.” — A mother reflecting on her child’s progress in primary school.
“It is a waste of time. Homework should be abolished!” — Perhaps unsurprisingly: a high school student who gets a lot of homework at a national school here.
Different people can have quite extremely differing views on the value of school homework. It is probably a reasonable estimation of the situation to suggest that most students could happily live without it but it might equally be reasonable to suppose that many teachers would feel uncomfortable without the presence of homework.
But is there a middle ground for homework? Is it possible to recognize some value in students doing some work on school activities at home? Perhaps we could start from an extreme point of view and see if we can work our way back to some “middle ground”.
So let us look at the point of view of extreme opposition to homework. There are those that do say that it is nothing but a waste of time and can be oppressive. There is a feeling that children get cajoled, even somewhat bullied and intimidated into doing homework.
Parents too can feel some intimidation with a fear that if the child does not do homework there is a danger, even likelihood of failure. But these things represent misperceptions and even abuses of what homework is or really should be.
Other opponents of homework suggest that it is useless at all levels of students’ abilities. For stronger students it is suggested that homework can be a waste of time. For them, being asked to do exercises based on tasks done in class, that they are already familiar with, is without value.
For weaker students, who have not grasped ideas or concepts in class time, homework can reinforce bad learning as they attempt to do exercises and just go on doing things in the wrong way.
Again, though, it might be suggested that these represent abuses of what homework could and should be and signify poor use of the possibilities that homework can offer. Stronger students should be challenged by their homework, and homework for weaker students should be set to their levels and appropriately reviewed as a possible means of addressing and remedying problems.
Extremely negative viewpoints on homework tend to define it as some unnecessary evil that is nothing but an onerous chore and has a tendency to create bad feeling toward school work and resentment to the whole idea of study. It is claimed that homework impinges on home time that should be for family to be together and for children to play.
These viewpoints are perhaps understandable when children are overburdened by reams and reams of homework and homework is simply being done for its own sake rather than any beneficial learning purpose.
Equally too, when homework is set that is simply beyond children’s abilities and parents end up doing the homework, for them the learning value and credibility of homework is pretty much lost.
But all of these things do represent distortions of what homework really can be and can do for learning children. Two keywords might be: moderation and constructiveness. That is to say, in the context of homework more is most likely going to add up to less. Therefore, moderate amounts of homework spread through the week may be more useful than expecting hours and hours of homework each evening.
Keeping homework constructive quite simply legitimizes the whole process. Giving students a purpose and preferably some motivation to actually do the homework makes the whole process useful.
People do complain that homework can be repetitive and so boring but in some subjects, such as mathematics, some repetition and so practice of problems can be one of the best ways of learning. Again, though, moderation is critical; repetition of 100 problems or even more can lead to repetitive boredom and some loss of learning.
That keyword of constructiveness also applies to teachers. Some teachers use homework as a threat or punishment. The line “be quiet in class or I will give you more homework” damagingly sets up homework as a punitive and negative weapon rather than a beneficial learning experience.
But that is what homework really ought to be; it ought to be a beneficial learning experience. Students should not lapse into the notion that once the bell rings and they rush out through the school gates learning ends. They ought to potentially have some willingness and desire to follow up and continue their learning beyond the classroom.
There are ways in which things learned via homework can prove lastingly beneficial. For example, students can review and so reinforce ideas and concepts learned during the school day. They can also revise and read up for lessons to come.
These kinds of experiences and developing skills are beneficial for the student that seeks to continue studies to university level where a greater sense of independence and self-directed learning is the norm.
Self-directed learning and the opportunity to explore and discover things independently are definitely things that can happen in the process of doing homework. Children that are stimulated to seek out information in libraries, from newspapers and magazines to the Internet are children that are getting a head start for future challenges.
But the stimulation and challenge that comes with homework has to be reciprocated and respected by teachers. Teachers that use homework as a punitive measure are generally not reciprocating or respectful.
Similarly, when students have done homework but there is no review, feedback or appreciation the whole process is undermined and respect for the concept of homework is lost as is respect between and for teachers and students.
So is homework really needed or not? There are people that say that it should not be necessary; that claim that school work should be done at school and homework represents either a curriculum that is too full or an inability of the teacher to get through materials efficiently.
Homework though is not some continuation or compensation for the classroom. It should be there to support, assist and reinforce what is happening in the classroom. A student — in his final year of high school at a state run school here in Jakarta — who admitted to actually disliking homework highlighted the benefit it can bring when he noted that it was “interesting” and “encourages (students) to learn more than what they learn in school”.
It may not always be comfortable or easy to do homework but overall benefits and gains that may accrue from it seem to outweigh the negative thoughts and apparent losses to “home time”.