Doubt cast over homework

By Cassandra Mason

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Children who do homework are no better off than those who don't, a Rotorua deputy principal says.

Results of a national CensusAtSchool survey found Kiwi primary school students spent an average of 53 minutes doing homework each night.

Seventy-seven per cent of students aged 6-12 had done some homework on the night before the survey.

Otonga Primary School deputy principal Wendy Peterson said homework was not enforced at her school. "It's there if they want it, but we just think kids need time to be kids."

Most homework was given because parents wanted it and children who did do their homework didn't necessarily benefit from it, Mrs Peterson said.

"I wouldn't say that they're academically any more advanced than the children that don't [do their homework].

"Homework shouldn't be a learning thing. Homework should just be reinforcement."

Activities like cooking and spending time with parents were much more beneficial for primary-aged children. "It's much better to be weighing and measuring and cooking scones with your kids." However, reading at home was very important for beginners, she said.

Melbourne University Education Research Institute director Professor John Hattie said the traditional homework model was not working for primary schools. "For too many students homework reinforces that they cannot learn by themselves and that they cannot do the schoolwork. For these students homework can undermine motivation, internalise incorrect routines and strategies, and reinforce less-effective study habits, especially for elementary students." Higher-ability students benefited more than those of lower ability, as did older rather than younger students, Professor Hattie said.

"It is a hotly contested area and my experience is that many parents judge the effectiveness of schools by the presence or amount of homework," he said.

A Rotorua parent who didn't want to be named said he was a supporter of children having regular homework as long as the parents were involved.

"I found it was a way to see how they were progressing as well as seeing they were being taught at school. It also meant if I felt they were maybe struggling in a particular subject I could pick up on it early and maybe contact their teacher.

"The last thing I wanted was to turn up at a meet-the-teacher night and find out they were having problems with a subject for a whole term."

The Ministry of Education does not have specific guidelines on how much homework teachers should assign, but encourages homework that engages parent and child. "Different schools have different homework policies - some set homework for older students but not younger ones, while others set homework for all students," a ministry spokesman said.

"Evidence shows that homework activities that are designed to help parents to support children's learning at home and that engage parents in what their child is doing at school, have the most positive results."

CensusAtSchool NZ is part of an international non-profit educational project started in the UK in 2000.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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