The Beast Holiday Homework
I remember once reading on the internet a post on holiday homework. It intended to be a debate on the need and virtue of schools assigning holiday homework to students.
The creator of the post chose to opine that giving students homework during holidays actually contradicted the raison d’être of a holiday – ‘a period when a break is taken from work or studies for rest, travel and recreation’ and went on to say that ‘it was about time teachers realized this massive contradiction’.
Join me as we dive into this debate and form our opinions on to give or not to give, for yes – that is the question.
First things first. Let us identify and agree on the reason(s) holiday homework is given. Is it given so that children can be taught to work with ferocious intensity as they spend that last one week of the two-month holiday doing the homework like people possessed, or is it so that parents can happily outsource the project-making so that their child’s is the prettiest (Note: glitter pen usage is important here. More glitter, more marks. And spiral bound please with plastic cover)? Is it so that children get free eye-care due to reduced television watching or is it so they develop supple bodies and perfect posture as they carry that extra bag of books when they go to Grandma’s house? Is it to reduce parents’ hair loss or is it to generally promote massive paper consumption. Is it to ensure teacher’s red-pens are kept flowing and they are adequately occupied in keeping with the 6th pay-commission salaries that they draw. Perhaps holiday homework is given so that children know what to write about in class-teachers’ favorite ‘What I did in my summer holidays’ back-to-school essay.
Or do schools give holiday homework to keep skills sharp so that when students come back after a long break they hit the ground running. Could it also be given so that students actively extend and refine the knowledge acquired in the classroom? Could the objective be that students enthusiastically and independently seek to learn outside school?
The real question parents need to ask themselves is not ‘why so much homework is given’ rather ‘is the homework relevant, interesting and does it encourage lateral and cross curricular thinking?’ If it does and comes with adequate guidelines, students will enjoy doing it, will be engaged and will take individual responsibility to complete the tasks. In short it is the nature of the beast and not the beast itself.
Let us look at some examples and possible non-examples.
Examples of work that is relevant, interesting and encourages ‘thinking’-
History WW II: Show how more and more countries got involved in the war stating how/why by making a comic strip style time-sequence. Stick maps of Europe side-by-side and colour the countries on maps of Europe as they got drawn into the war giving an explanation below.
Maths: Plant a stick in a field or garden and measure the length of its shadow every three hours for one week. Using a calculator, find the ratio of the height of the stick to its shadow. What do you notice? Be ready to be part of a class discussion when you get back to school.
Geography: Chart the position of the sun once a week on the same day of the week for a period of two months. Do this at the same time in the morning from the same spot in your house. Do this by making a line in chalk or pencil mark on the floor or garden pointing to the direction the sun is in each day. What do you notice? What could it mean? Conduct research on the internet searching through key words, sun, movement, migration, apparent. Write and draw out your conclusions on one page.
Non-examples Make a project on WW II.
Learn the trigonometric tables of standard angles by writing it out five times a day and do at least 10 sums a day form chapters 8 to 12.
Make a chart showing the position of the earth as it revolves around the sun showing the equinoxes and solstice positions clearly. Label it. Colour it.
In the languages, providing a suggested reading list or film viewing list is the most wonderful idea. Films like Life is Beautiful, The Wizard of Oz, Karate Kid to name just a few could be included. Not only do the films have a moral and comedy, they relate to times in history and have a positive social impact on children. The list could be several movies long. However, the list is only meant to be suggestive so all the films need not be seen. Parents often need this sort of guidance and providing lists helps. What’s more, for parents who have the time, watching films together and discussing them afterwards is an excellent opportunity to bond with their children.
It is pertinent to ask ourselves do schools themselves really want to give homework during the holidays? Do they have an interest in assigning it? What’s in it for them? Nothing, really. Progressive schools assign holiday homework simply as they believe learning never stops and should never stop. Their students must be given opportunities that stimulate their minds even outside school hours. The students are not treated like hot potatoes once school is shut for the summer. Having said that, most parents, hand on heart, want schools to give holiday homework. They want their children to be kept occupied. But sadly many students have been brought up without being given a chance to take responsibility for their own scholastic learning, and from an early age have taken help from a parent or tutor in completing their homework. For such students and their parents ‘completing’ holiday homework proves to be both a challenge and a pain.
Think about it. What is the nature of the beast in your child’s school? And as the line goes in Disney’s epic film The Lion King— ‘Be prepared’.
What must be asked is the value homework provides to students and, in my opinion, that debate should be based upon three questions:
- Is that homework beneficial for the student’s personal education goals?
- Will homework assignments help to develop the student’s independent learning skills?
- How can educators guard against placing undue pressure on students and help parents support their child’s learning?
In my opinion, the true issue isn’t whether students should work at home; it’s whether homework should be routinely assigned?
Sarita Mathur is a free-lance education consultant offering services to schools, both rural and urban, in India and abroad.
An alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, Sarita has a degree in Mathematics, Education and a post-graduate degree in Operations Research. The Mathematics background and her
well-honed sense of systems and processes had her institutionalize several long lasting and important changes as Principal of The Shri Ram School placing it firmly on the map as a progressive and leading school of India. Sarita has served as a consultant on the International curriculum of the CBSE and also serves as advisor/consultant to several curriculum companies, schools and start-up ventures.