An open letter to fellow educators. Happy Children’s Day!

homework

Dear fellow educators,

14th November was introduced in our country to celebrate and emphasize the importance of children in society and nation building. Happy Children’s Day! It’s time to let them play.

In my years of training, learning and working as an educator, I have heard and read very often: Let the children play. Teach them to be happy. Teach them to respect themselves and others. Give them time to be friends and socialize. To grow as human beings. I believe that all of us as parents and educators, wish to provide for these in our children’s lives. Yet, what is it that we do by design to make time for their leisure during the most crucial years of their journey? How does the ecosystem of school, home and society work towards providing this time for play? Let’s do the math for the hours in a day in the life of a school student. Give or take some minutes, this is what it typically looks like.

  • 2 hours to get ready and commute to school
  • 7 hours in school
  • 2 hour to get home and refresh
  • 1 to 3 hours for homework/test preparation/project work
  • 1 hour for additional class (creative arts/sports/subject tuitions)

This makes for a gruelling 13 to 15-hour day for a K-12 student. Week after week. On Weekends, there is often make-up class in school, weekend homework or additional prep for test/exam that would be coming up in the following week. On an average, a student spends one to 3 hours a day on homework and school related assignments. Homework has entered into our teaching/parenting conversations… don’t forget your homework tomorrow or else… says the teacher. Do your homework before you go out to play… says the parent. Over the last 100 years, homework has become entrenched in a student’s life.

At one time, rather than diagnosing children with various attention deficit disorders, paediatricians would prescribe more outdoor exercise. I remember, during the time my grandmother was a head mistress in a primary school, she would often come home and talk about how she sent the fidgety ones out running in the school grounds in between the periods! There were discussions on elimination of homework and periodicity of tests for all students under 15 as it stressed them. That was the age when they would go for Matriculation exam – as 10th Grade exit. This is for the years before Intermediate college/ PUC or 11th/12thin school. The cold war made the crisis of homework deeper with assumption that Russian children were smarter, working harder and achieving more in the school. The opinion which was swinging away from homework, swung back and abolishing or limiting homework thought process was overturned. Over the years, homework was looked at taking over outdoor play, creativity and over all social development.

The National Education Association issued this statement in 1966:

It is generally recommended (a) that children in the early elementary school have no homework specifically assigned by the teacher; (b) that limited amounts of homework—not more than an hour a day—be introduced during the upper elementary school and junior high years; (c) that homework be limited to four nights a week; and (d) that in secondary school no more than one and a half hours a night be expected. (In Wildman, 1968, p. 204)

However, through the years, the swing continued on thoughts of what was to be considered good homework and what was bad homework; what was good enough at what age and so forth. For more on the beliefs, moralistic views, puritan work ethic, behaviourism and the cultural stress on performance, here’s a link to an article.

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108071/chapters/The-Cult(ure)-of-Homework.aspx

Here’s a list that I tweeted a couple of weeks ago of what possibilities open up when homework does not call dibs on the student’s time.

nivedita mukerjee ‏@nmukerjee1  Oct 26

31 Things Your Kids Should Be Doing Instead of Homework http://www.parent.co/31-things-your-kids-should-be-doing-instead-of-homework/?utm_source=sumome&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=sumome_share …

There’s no arguing that all children need play time, down time and family time. However most of that is taken up by homework time! on weekdays and weekends. What do the best in education system – the Finnish schools have to say about this?

Click on this link for a glimpse into that:

Here’s your 20 question quiz on what you think Homework is. Say True or False.

  1. It is a necessity.
  2. It takes all day.
  3. It lets children work at their own pace, without peer pressure.
  4. It teaches them responsibility and organization skills.
  5. It allows time to study for tests and go over class work.
  6. It is necessary in elementary school.
  7. It is necessary in primary school.
  8. It is necessary in middle and high school.
  9. It shows what an individual student knows not what the next student knows.
  10. It helps to drill the concepts home.
  11. It helps in learning habits.
  12. It helps in practice leading to perfection.
  13. It helps the student to retain knowledge.
  14. It has to be fun and interesting.
  15. It needs to be challenging.
  16. It should be banned.
  17. It is a hassle for student and teacher to work on and to grade.
  18. It comes in way of extracurricular activities.
  19. It leads to late nights resulting in lack of adequate sleep.
  20. It causes stress.

As an educator when you plan a homework assignment, what is your objective? How much time should they need to spend on the homework? Do you share that expectation with your students? How much homework is just the right amount for a particular grade? When does it stop being meaningful? The 10-minute rule, which calls for 10 minutes of homework per day per grade is endorsed by some schools. You may want to think about yours.

Yours truly,

Nivedita Mukerjee

A fourth generation educator, aspiring to visit schools in Finland and wishes that teachers and parents question themselves and their school’s policy on homework.

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5 thoughts on “An open letter to fellow educators. Happy Children’s Day!

  1. Though not an educator in the traditional sense, this topic is on my mind right now! As it happens, am in the process of trying out freeing my children’s time of organised activities. They do take part in after school activities, but they chose it themselves (and the location probably makes them think it is an extension of school). I used to hear ‘I am bored’ quite a bit before, but it is getting less strident now. About the Finland education system – have closely watched a few school leaders in the US that are fervent advocates of this model and are trying out initiatives in the traditional public school system. But I think any conclusive results would only be seen over a period of several years. This model presupposes that the education system leads to a future that accommodates it. It’ll be interesting to see how the new societies that are experimenting with it make it work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Peeu
    As always made wonderful reading. With you in this to a large extent. Won’t say practise of homework should be scrapped but would definitely say purpose of home work be redefined. I would rather be in for qualitative home assignments rather than quantitative ones. Sitting and filling in pages of homework note books is not the only way to test the students ability to remember what is taught in school. And then homework if it is taxing for the students is equally taxing for the parents too. Give that which the student is able to do on his /her own. Don’t tempt them to outsource it . Can we not have creativity infused in home assignments. Where atleast at some period the children are able to day I had fun completing my home assignment yesterday. This till such time that we are able to scrap this word from student life .

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Its 0323 hours . The duty nurse came in to check my vitals ! Unable to fall asleep I sit up on my hospital bed and check my messages . And there I see Ms Niv’s post ! I opened the link and believe you me .. it was unputdownable ( thats the only word that can describe the open letter Happy Children’s Day ! )
    14 th Nov , the 2 nd Sunday in June , 30 th August , 2 nd July … Children’s day is to celebrate the spirit of childhood , its innocence , playfulness , freedom and joy !
    Your question Ms Niv .. how does a school’s ecosystem support and sustain this important learning journey of a child ..is so valid and crucial . And the 20 question quiz ! Well thats a tough one !

    The earliest known teacher to administer homework was Roberto Nevilis in Venice in 1095, but there might have been instructors that have administered homework before him despite the lack of evidence.
    And then again when I was in school the whole family struggled because of homework . Its a vivid memory, Papa standing by the ubiquitous phone stand ,and telling his friend , sorry we cannot make it for the picnic to Vrindavan tomorrow because Aru has to finish her homework and project !’
    My heart stopped for a second ! I was so looking forward to the trip and now the whole family will miss the fun !
    I was in grade 8 I think and Maa said Aru let me help you with your assignment . She looked at what I had in my message manager or homework diary as it was called then and was visibly relieved ! My Geography test material …’ Minerals have crystal systems which are defined by the # of axis and the length of the axis that intersect the crystal faces.’ That’s how the notes started, and they only got murkier after that . I had to memorise that . Then I had 11 Algebra equation and had to read chapter 2 of the Radiant Reader and look for 3 quotes and write them out ! Together we got done and finally had a great time at the unit picnic !
    No points for guessing what the high point of the conversation at the picnic was …if homework was essential , if yes then how much and how often ?
    It got worse or seemed when my kids were growing up .Evenings after they were back from their respective language / music / tennis coaching our time was spent trying to get home assignments and projects done !

    Room no 512 at Ramiah Memorial hospital looked more like a board room than a hospital ward . Everyone from consultants , nursing staff, visitors and housekeeping staff contributed their bit of wisdom . It was so much fun that I completely forgot the discomfort of the investigations , the needles or the not so palatable hospital food ! Thank you Ms Niv !
    I will sign off with a poem close to my heart . Its a long one but worth a read !
    Just Playing

    When I’m building in the block area,
Please don’t say I’m “just playing.”
For you see, I’m learning as I play,
About balances and shapes.
Who knows, I may be an architect someday.
    When I’m getting all dressed up,
Setting the table, caring for the babies,
Don’t get the idea I’m “just playing.”
For you see, I’m learning as I play;
I may be a mother or father someday.
    When you see me up to my elbows in paint
Or standing at an easel,
Or molding and shaping clay,
Please don’t let me hear you say, “He is just playing.”
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m expressing myself and being creative.
I may be an artist or an inventor someday.
    When you see me sitting in a chair
”Reading” to an imaginary audience,
Please don’t laugh and think I’m “just playing.’
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I may be a teacher someday.
    When you see me combing the bushes for bugs,
Or packing my pockets with choice things I find,
Don’t pass it off as “just play.’
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I may be a scientist someday.
    When you see me engrossed in a puzzle
Or some “plaything’ at my school,
Please don’t feel the time is wasted in ‘play.’
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning to solve problems and concentrate.
I may be in business someday.
    When you see me cooking or tasting foods,
Please don’t think that because I enjoy it,
It is ‘just play.’
I’m learning to follow instructions  and see differences.
I may be a chef someday.
    When you see me learning to skip, hop,
Run and move my body,
Please don’t say I’m “just playing.”
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning how my body works.
I may be a doctor, nurse or athlete someday.
    When you ask me what I’ve done at school today,
And I say, “I just played’,
Please don’t misunderstand me.
For you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in my work.
I’m preparing for tomorrow.
Today, I am a child and my Work is play.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A great read Nivedita,so close to my heart too. I am happy that we are discussing this integral most important part of childhood and which is miserabley missing from their life today. If you look at the schedule of a child ‘s day after school you will find a slot for a chess class, a tennis class and even a gym session and then of course the HOMEWORK.
    Every thing is organised and planned for them from timetable to the type of sport they are going to pursue. Where is the joy of creating their own little games ,their own teams and rules? Where are those games and stories where a stick can turn in to a powerful sword or a piece of cloth can become their wings or a tail? These are the times when children use all their senses and skills to their optimum use and the learning is immense and beyond any adults perception and understanding.
    Thanks Nivedita for re kindling this wonderful debate and I am hoping that some day as we have discussed many times we will create such a space for children.
    Noni

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Noni… loved your thoughts! I agree Homework has its plus side and most often its purely academic in the sense that I would love to to hear a mother say ‘ Hey guess what my child’s homework was today ? …to jog in the park for 10 minutes , play basketball for half hour and run up the stairs .. no using the elevator ! So girls .. Noni and Niv .. I too nurture the fond hope of creating such ecosystem for young children ! So my offer is lets meet over beer and biryani, coffee and cake, Chai , chaat and chat , wine and cheese … take your pick and let me know what works for you. GPS on and head to Shalom !

    Like

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