1 May 2017

Homework: Useless or useful?

6:14 pm on 1 May 2017

An Australian primary school's decision to do away with homework is sparking debate about its value on this side of the Tasman.

A primary school student does his homework on the floor at home.

The New Zealand Principals' Federation says there isn't enough research on the benefits of homework. Photo: 123RF

Allambie Heights Public School has abolished homework and replaced it with optional school projects for students in Year 3 to Year 6.

The school said the new policy had been hugely successful, with 100 percent of students doing the projects, in contrast to its previous low rates of daily homework completion.

Parents and teachers across New Zealand are divided about the value of homework, and there is no national policy - it is up to individual schools to choose what they assign to students.

Some of the parents spoken to by RNZ labelled the homework their children were given as "useless", but others said doing it taught skills that would be needed during tertiary education.

More research on benefits of homework needed

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormack said the education sector could not reach a consensus either.

There was not enough research on the benefits of homework, Mr Cormack said.

"It is quite varied and schools across the country would have different policies and procedures in place for homework."

He said schools were well aware that a lot of parents thought homework was pointless.

"There's an increasing move in New Zealand schools to scrapping homework and encouraging families to enable their children to participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports, music tuition, and actually just being at home and being with family and talking," he said.

It was really important to have lots of conversation at home to enrich children's vocabulary, he said.

Education consultant and parenting commentator Joseph Driessen, meanwhile, said parents and teachers often fought over ideal homework loads - and they needed to reach a compromise.

"What the school needs to do is to actually walk a middle ground and say homework is a precursor to independent study, and it should be appropriate, it should be interesting and it shouldn't be too much or too little," Mr Driessen said.

'Parents are the first educators of children'

A senior lecturer in education at Massey University, Jenny Poskitt, said some of what was provided by homework was needed - especially for the first years of primary school, helping with basic spelling, reading and numeracy - but life experience was also vital.

"Parents are the first educators of children. They're the ones who can impart best cultural values, moral principles, sporting and performing arts, [those] sorts of experiences."

There needed to be a balance between homework and everyday skills, Dr Poskitt said.

"If schools require too much homework and children [are] sitting and fretting about expectations that are not relevant, then everyone suffers. But where people have communicated well and there's interest and building on the expertise at home, then everyone wins."

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