Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Should Australian Schools Ban Homework?

Homework (Photo credit: TJCoffey)
by Associate Professor Richard Walker, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Social Work at University of Sydney and Mike Horsley, Director, Learning and Teaching Education Research Centre at Central Queensland University, The Conversation:

The recent decision by French President Francois Hollande to abolish homework from French schools has reignited the long running debate about homework.

This debate has been around for more than a century and remains a contentious issue for parents, students and education researchers alike.

A lengthy debate

Last month’s promised ban came as part of Hollande’s wider reforms to education, and followed widespread teacher and parent agitation for a short-term ban on homework in France earlier in the year.

At that time, the president of a French teachers’ organisation stated that homework reinforces socioeconomic and educational inequalities, saying: “Not all families have the time or necessary knowledge to help their offspring.”

On the other side of the debate, the president of another French parents’ association spoke in support of homework and stated: “Of course, it has to be reasonable, but going back over a lesson is the best way of learning things.”

Homework, broadly defined as tasks given to students during non-school hours, has long been the subject of both pro- and anti-homework campaigns, some of which have resulted in court action and the abolition of homework for students in some school grades.

Abolishing homework

The recent French announcement has led to calls for the abolition of homework in some German and American schools. So should homework be abolished in Australia? The answer to this question requires a closer look at what homework is supposed to do, and whether it achieves these goals for students of all backgrounds.

The most comprehensive list of reasons for setting homework has been compiled by American researcher Joyce Epstein. These include the practice of already learnt skills, preparation for the next lesson, parent-child communication about school activities, the requirements of school or education department policies, and the enhancement of the reputation of the school or teacher.

But most empirical research into homework focuses on three main issues: does homework enhance student learning and achievement outcomes? Does homework help students to develop the skills of independent, self-directed learning? Does homework involve parents in the educational activities of their children in ways that are beneficial?

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