photo of book. is homework pointless? is homework a waste of time?

There’s an ongoing debate surrounding the necessity of homework for school children and young teenagers alike.

On one hand, homework can cause stress and the tasks may not have much substance to it, with most teachers merely setting it because they’ve been instructed to do so daily. But on the other flip of the coin, homework is necessary because the child can then gain a deeper understanding of a topic and they will grow up disciplined.

Which countries set the most homework?

The countries that prioritise homework are not actually the countries that do the best academically. This is a huge indicator that the home activity may be pointless.

The country that sets the most homework won’t surprise you. China’s primary and secondary school students spend around 3 hours a day doing homework. This is twice the global average.

This is followed by;

Russia, Singapore, Kazakhstan and then a European country which may surprise you…

According to OECD research, teenagers in Italy must commit up to nine hours per week. This makes Italy the number one EU country to set the most homework.

Other European countries such as Ireland, with teenagers spending over 7 hours of homework per week, Spain, and Hungary closely follow.

The United States sets around an hour more per week than the United Kingdom. However, they are both in the middle of the spectrum.

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The country that sets the least homework is Finland, with only 2 hours per week. This is interesting because it is also said that Finland has the best schooling system in the world.

So, does that mean there’s a link between less homework and academic success?

Or is it simply a coincidence and homework should be a continued practice?

The country that sets the least homework is Finland, with only 2 hours per week. This is interesting because it is also said that Finland has the best schooling system in the world.

What are the benefits of homework?

Of course, there are obvious pros and that’s why the majority of schooling systems set several hours’ worth of homework every week.

The after-school workload is an opportunity for families to get involved in the child’s learning process, and it reinforces what has been taught that day at school, so the child can better understand and remember.

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It can give parents an insight into what their child is struggling and exceeding in. Then, the parent could arrange private tuition in that area, if it was needed.

It also gives students various skills and life-lessons such as discipline, accountability, independence, time management and team-work. These will all be beneficial beyond school and it gives them a taste of ‘real life’.

But then why can homework be a pointless waste of time?

Firstly, homework is handed out too frequently, making it stressful and boring.

Often, it’s also too difficult for the child, even with the parent’s help, increasing pressure and anxiety.

As a result of this, parents often do their child’s homework instead. A survey shows that a hefty 23% of parents actually complete their child’s homework assignments without even involving them.

What good would this do?

Another reason it could be a waste of time is the way in which teachers set them. They seem to set frivolous tasks for the sake of it. Unless the homework holds purpose, why bother doing it?

It may be better to set fewer hours on assignments that are truly meaningful, instead of 5+ hours on repetitive tasks – though not all schools would do this.

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However, subjects such as math will often always be beneficial because they work as practicing equations… but, again, this only works if the child understands what they’re doing.

What do the professionals think about this debate?

It seems that professionals in the education industry have taken opposing viewpoints. Let’s find out who thinks what.

Some professionals say homework is “completely pointless”

The director of the ResearchEd conference, Tom Bennett called homework “completely pointless” when referring to the Ofsted regime which encourages teachers to set out more homework assignments for their students.

He believes that the after-school educational practice is “back breaking” and he claimed that it actually steals away their family time.

Further validating this point, author Nicholson Baker said, “No mandatory homework in elementary school. None. No homework in middle school and high school unless a kid wants to do it.”

He continued, “Chronic nightly homework makes for guilt, resentment, and lies—and family arguments and bone weariness. Parents become enforcers. It gets ugly.”

Other professionals think that homework is 100% “necessary”

Ms. Ahrens, the director of education policy in Southeast Asia Resource Action Center believes in the importance of homework. She said, Homework is absolutely necessary for students to demonstrate that they are able to independently process and apply their learning.”

However, she does believe it can be changed in terms of the method so it’s more beneficial. “Homework might include pre-reading in preparation for what will be covered in class that day, independent research on a student-chosen topic that complements the class curriculum, experiential learning through a volunteer activity or field trip, or visiting a website and accomplishing a task on it.”

While some experts had a firm standpoint on the matter, some professionals were on the fence about the debate.

It’s likely that the majority of professionals sees both sides.

Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation said, “Homework, in the popular parlance, is thought of as a necessary but dreary component of education. But if properly envisioned, homework can be exhilarating, an opportunity for students to venture independently to pursue in-depth topics first broached in the classroom.”

In order to, therefore, make homework a positive thing. Students must be excited by it and this can be done through a “hands-on” approach. If you do this, there is a definite ‘point’ to homework.

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Kahlenberg said, “It will encourage students to be explorers and to move beyond what is familiar to them. It will take them into new neighbourhoods to interact with people of racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds different than their own.”

What does a GCSE Chief Examiner think?

Similarly, GCSE Chief Examiner Mark Richards can identify the benefits from setting homework, but he too sees the draw-backs in the way that homework is set. He wrote to me with his thoughts on whether homework was pointless.

Mark Richards said, “Homework is not pointless per se. Having said that, it is all too easy for it to become largely ineffective. Furthermore, a poorly thought-through school homework policy can render it pointless.”

The GCSE examiner continued, “Work that challenges, extends and builds on pupils’ learning cannot ever really be pointless. But the problem is this: how often – genuinely – can the tasks that are typically set as homework be described as such?”

“In all honesty, setting Year 7 ‘something to do’ on Tuesday because that is what it says should happen on the homework table is a recipe for disaster. Homework should only be set if it truly moves learning forward.”

And what do I think?

As someone who has researched this subject for the purposes of this article, as well as studied in school and university with a lot of homework assignments, it’s clear to say I also have my own opinion on homework. It’s very similar to Mark Richards’, though perhaps leaning towards it being more pointless for the younger children.

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I’ve always thought that the last thing a child needs is stress so constant homework should be avoided. However, a degree of discipline is definitely necessary, especially with subjects the child struggles in because the time at school may not be enough.

A degree of discipline is definitely necessary, especially with subjects the child struggles in because the time at school may not be enough.

Around 5 years old, I think homework is important for a child to gain the essential and core skills in each subject. It’s also a way for them to learn with their parents and bond.

However, around the age of 10, I don’t see the necessity. From my memory of education, homework at that age was also pointless. It did not provide me with any further substance for the topic. Indeed, they seemed to be mindless tasks, repeating what was already done in the classroom and not helping me any further.

Indeed, once kids grow up to GCSE level, it may become prudent to understand difficult subjects and pass exams. That’s when homework may be necessary in order to cement things in the brain – because much of the testing system seems to be a memory test (and that’s a separate issue entirely).

So… is it necessary?

While British children may not be happy with doing homework (because what child really likes it?), they should appreciate the fact that UK pupils only receive around 5 hours per week, compared to Shanghai, China’s 14 hours.

However, are those 5 hours necessary? Why does Finland do so well when their students barely have any?

Well, homework does have clear benefits. With the skills mentioned above, as well as giving the parent’s an insight into their child’s performance, it looks like homework is here to stay.

Then again, there are definitely many homework tasks that may make your eyes roll as you question ‘Why?’. The next time you see this kind of pointless homework set, whether you’re the pupil or parent, why not question the teacher? Ask them what purpose it has and you may see the benefits.

Comment below with your thoughts on homework and get involved in the debate. Do you think the UK should reduce or increase the numbers set per week?

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