Populism has taken the world by storm. Donald Trump and Brexit are the most damaging examples. Like so many others I have watched with dismay. In that light I’m a little uncomfortable proposing what could be considered the most populist proposal ever. No more homework. It’s a wish I’m sure we’ve all heard throughout our school lives. Just thinking back to the mountains of work gives me a feeling akin to fingernails on a blackboard.
As a campaign it has potential. A single sentence encapsulates the position clearly. In this age of slogans and chants that’s important. Bart Simpson’s ‘Down with Homework’ t-shirt could be dusted off. We wouldn’t even need to be very original with chants, a quick search of YouTube provides more than we could ever use. All the ingredients are there.
So with the catch sorted we move onto the detail. Like all good populist campaigns, the devil will be in the detail. The campaign will really be ‘No Homework for Primary School Students’. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of homework for secondary school students. There is an argument to be made that primary school homework gets students into the habit and increases from there. I don’t think years of practice are required. On the contrary it seems to me that six years of secondary school homework, often followed by college is more than enough.
Childhood Obesity is a major problem in Ireland. The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative carried out by the Health Service Executive in conjunction with the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre in UCD this year makes for worrying reading. One in five of our children are overweight or obese. Schools have come a long way in terms of healthy eating campaigns and there is more of an emphasis on physical activity but more is needed.
The very nature of schools is learning and much of the time is inevitably spent sitting. The Irish weather hasn’t improved since my time either. Often, it’s not possible to go outside during break. Technological improvements mean the T.V. on wheels no longer needs to be wheeled in but the projector provides the same result. After a day like this our children are sent home with homework to do. More time sitting after a day of it.
Removing homework won’t be a magic bullet. Parents would need to ensure the homework time isn’t simply replaced with screen time. A strong campaign would be needed to encourage evening exercise. Increased provision of walking and cycle ways as well as playgrounds would help too. Not all would comply, but many would. With such worrying obesity stats, it’s time to change our priorities.
There have been many studies carried out on the value of homework. Researchers at the Georgia Health Sciences University tested the effects of aerobic exercise on 171 sedentary, overweight kids between the ages of 7 and 11 years old. They found improvements in I.Q. scores as well as Maths ability where physical activity levels are increased. Canadian Author and Public Policy contributor André Picard has argued that homework is counterproductive. He says research shows clearly that children being active is more important than homework for improving learning and test scores and health.
As a working parent, I find these arguments compelling. Life during school term is a whirlwind. Once I’ve collected my kids, made dinner, helped to get the homework done and taken them to an after-school activity if there is one that day, its bedtime. And we are all tired. We are all busier these days. Quality time is at a premium. Let’s get rid of the homework and build in more family activity time. Instead of spending their early years teaching them to sit and do homework we could be teaching them the joy of an active lifestyle.