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Are We Over Loading Our Students?

  • Written by Michele McArdle
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To give homework or not, that is the question. Our schools are increasingly asking young people to be involved in not only academic life but also sport, drama, music and an array of other things, considering this, has enough thought been given to the setting of homework?

In schools today our students are asked to sit around six to seven hours, is it then prudent to ask them to sit another couple of hours in the evening? Medical evidence says no, as sitting stops the neurons firing and pathways developing in the brain. So why do we persist? Perhaps teachers give homework because that is what they experienced as a student or perhaps teachers are seen as not doing their job if homework is not given. Either way rigorous debate around the significance and purpose of homework is needed.

I know in the early part of my teaching career I gave significant amounts of homework but now I am really reflecting on whether that was the right thing to do. I say this because I now have a greater understanding that my students are not just students, that they also have many other roles within their lives such as; sister, brother, son, daughter and friend to name a few. Time should permit students to participate in these roles but what I see are students spending their entire week-end doing homework. This in turn may lead to stress and anxiety as there is no down time to just be a kid and no time to interact with others. This may compound things further by having an increasing number of young people who are overweight. While the stress and anxiety may lead to young people being medicated when ordinarily they may not be. No one wants this for our young people, least of all young people.

But I hear you say that as a teacher you don’t have enough time to get through the course if homework is not set. If this is the case then we have a fundamental problem with our education system and we really need to consider what we are trying to teach and why. This requires the education board to be in discussion with teachers as to what is actually happening in their schools and classrooms, rather than being a separate entity making uninformed decisions which are not practical or achievable.

Homework may be given as a way of consolidating what has been learnt in the classroom but do we just want students to be rote learning? Homework then becomes a question for the teacher about what they want their students to learn by doing homework. Teachers would say that they want students who can think for themselves, can make informed decisions, can be resilient and can ask questions to further help their understanding. If this is the case then the type of homework set needs to address.

Teachers may only set a little homework but if all subject teachers set homework on any one night students may have up to six individual pieces of work to complete. This means that the sheer quantity of homework becomes a concern and can leave students feeling overwhelmed, with no end in sight and little time for anything else.

Parents may see homework as a way of improving grades but there is no evidence to support this. So instead of spending quality time talking with their children it becomes an all-out war on getting homework completed and impacts on their relationship. No parent wants this.

Perhaps our education system should be asking students when in the classroom to work harder, be more productive with their time in order to eradicate homework or at the very least significantly minimise homework. Either way it is time for the debate on homework.

By Michele McArdle