Dec 172009
Mathematics homework

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The twins had finished their homework, and had gone off to play. Next to me the little one struggled on valiantly, ploughing through maths, reading and several worksheets before moving on to rehearsing her lines for the upcoming school Christmas concert. She could hear her sisters playing in the next room, but was keen to keep Miss happy by getting all her homework. It was too much.

Since school restarted in September, when the little one, who’s six-years-old, got a new teacher, we’ve seen the volume of homework she brings back each afternoon increase. Now it’s reached a level that’s bordering on the ridiculous. A six year old is already tired after being at school all day. The last thing she needs when she arrives home is big chunk of homework. To her credit she does it diligently every day, except Friday, which is thankfully homework free.

As I help her with her maths, reading and writing, I can’t help thinking that enough is enough… that outside school hours the priority for young children should be to play and have fun — to learn through non-academic pursuits that expand knowledge, promote problem solving, stimulate imagination, develop spatial awareness and all those vital things that you can’t teach in a classroom. Instead they have homework, which after a long day at school leaves them mentally exhausted, tired, cranky, and almost incapable of constructive play.

Surely that’s not right. Surely it’s time to move on from archaic and prescriptive educational doctrine and allow children a bit more room to grow, think and learn for themselves. I’m not saying abolish homework altogether… although a quick Google on the topic reveals that a lot of very informed people are saying exactly that. What I am most certainly suggesting is that homework should be tempered significantly for younger children. By all means reinforce what they’ve been learning in the classroom through simple exercises they can do at home… but homework for a six-year-old should take them half-an-hour, max.

You can’t really blame individual teachers… they’re a product of the system that governs them. Our education system is struggling to keep up in a world that’s changing with astonishing speed. I can’t help feeling somehow that giving masses of homework to primary school children is a prime example of how education is failing to evolve apace. While the books have changed — mainly into workbooks which are extortionately expensive, can’t be re-used, and ensure a steady stream of renewable revenue for educational publishers — the practice of doling out masses of homework is a throwback to a bygone era of learning by rote, when we focussed on teaching children what to think… rather than the much more crucial skill of how to think for themselves.

In a world that’s changing rapidly it’s the latter that will see our children thrive and prosper… and for that they need space, time and energy to explore the world outside their schoolbooks. It’s time for our educational system acknowledge the value of a child’s boundless curiosity and desire to discover, and to strike a balance between academic achievement and non-academic learning. Failing to do that is failing to prepare children for a world that is going to vastly differ to the one they’re growing up in today… and that’s doing nobody any favours.

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