The problem is not homework, it is context
Posted May 31, 2014on:
Yesterday I read this ST article, Have at least two homework-free days a week, and shook my head. I did this not in disagreement, but because of what I predict could happen if such an idea was implemented.
A member of parliament suggested that MOE require schools to mandate two homework-free days a week and reduce curricula by 20-30%. Most Singaporeans can predict what the official response is going to be: It is up to schools to decide homework policies and there have been curricula reductions in the past. But any suggestions will be reviewed and implemented on merit.
Two homework-free days a week. Does that mean the whole week or the school week? If you include the weekend, most schools already have two days teachers do not meet students in person to dish out homework.
If the week refers to the five-day schooling week, then consider one response. The same amount of homework gets spread over three days instead of five. If you play the numbers game, others will find workarounds also based on numbers.
Doing this does not deal with the issues of homework: What is homework, why have we come to expect it, and is it even necessary?
Some people might suggest that flipped classrooms become policy. I would ask them if they are just changing the nature of homework instead of dealing with the problems that homework creates (no support at home, more tuition, less quality family time, more unnecessary stress, etc.).
I am not sure that content reduction will help. I recall being involved in curricular reduction more than 15 years ago when I was a teacher. Now there only seems to be more to do. Why? Instead of filling the time with exploratory or creative ventures, teachers filled the time with anything linked to test preparation.
In an effort to develop kids holistically, curriculum time was also filled with other activities. In theory, this is a wonderful idea. In reality, this breaks down when things like zoo visits become administrative, logistical, and legal challenges instead of pedagogical ones. Kids then spend their time following orders and rushing from one station to another instead of learning deeply.
I do not think that a good solution lies in homework or curriculum reduction. I believe that there should be no homework (the type we understand now) and there should be a curricular redesign.
I say there should be no homework not to keep the home and school life silos separate. That is an impossibly difficult game to win. The silos were created simply because school was created for a different context, the Industrial Age, and because schools do not bring in enough real world context.
For example, in current social studies about tourism, much of the content is just about that. Content. Delivered in a book. Possibly practised with homework and then tested with exams. How about bringing in real world context?
As some families here prepare to go on June holidays, consider the amount of logistical and financial planning it takes. Why not give kids some virtual money to spend on a trip. Let them use current technologies to plan itineraries, do price comparisons, suggest travel and accommodations, debate and document their processes, etc. Make this the curricular default instead of an enrichment activity done only after exams are over.
These are activities that might start and end in class. If not, they spill over naturally at home or in the social lives of learners because the activities are fun, meaningful, or seamless.
This is homework of a different kind. It can be very difficult, but engages naturally. To do this would not require so much a content revamp but a contextual one. The change in context is from a theoretical one created in schools to a more realistic one that already exists outside of it.