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Giving toddlers homework strains relationships

WEDNESDAY LIFE
By Grace Kirigha | April 1st 2015

Kenya: More often than not, my friend, who has children in kindergarten, will cut our evening coffee date short so she can rush home and oversee her daughters’ homework time.

Now, homework has always been part of the school curriculum. Every school day will have something new, but one thing will remain constant: Homework. Practice makes perfect, so goes a saying and it actually makes sense when it comes to homework.

Nowadays, it is quite normal to find children as young as seven years trying to complete their homework as they have their dinner. This, however, should not be the case. The 8-4-4 system of education and the now disbanded ranking of schools ensured children were always, literally, on their toes in matters academics

I started getting homework when I was in Standard Six under the 7-4-2-3 system of education. The system allowed children to be children. School sessions were half day up to Standard Three. Only in Standard Four did we start going back to school for afternoon lessons.

Even so, I do not remember being given any homework. In the 1980s, children played — girls would play ‘kalongo’ while the boys practised for the ‘Safari Rally’ with their toy cars made out of cooking fat tins and slippers or banana stems. These days, it is rare to find children playing outside in the evening. It is not because all homes now have televisions. It is because they must complete their homework before bed time.

So does homework, especially at a tender age, add any value to a child’s academic achievement?

I do not think so. Five-year-olds will start disliking school because they are forced to either cut short their play time or not play at all to complete their homework. They have no choice but to do the homework or get in trouble with their teacher. Parents too, have to sign a diary to ascertain that the child has completed the homework.

Then there is the constant argument between parent and child about completing homework. Of course, this leads to strain in families and stress in general. Evenings are dominated by supervision of homework, assistance and checking, so that parents and their children do not enjoy each other’s company.

In fact, a growing number of schools in the West have banned homework in an effort to ensure that learning remains a joy for children.

While teaching high school students some years back, I realised they always breathed a sigh of relief whenever I did not give them homework.

 

Many may argue that homework enhances self-discipline, non-academic life skills and time management. In fact, some parents see a child with the head bent over books as an affirming symbol of hard work and achievement.

Unfortunately, however, students have no choice when it comes to homework; hence, they are not exercising any judgement but are instead, losing their sense of personal independence. If children are given freedom to control their education at an early stage, it will continue to serve them well into high school and college; they will feel better equipped to manage their time and approach teachers with questions.

Our obsession with homework is our standardised testing that is so academics-oriented. Schools push the idea that homework is somehow a means to ensure success. They all want to post the best results and have their names published in the media. Thank God ranking is no more; it makes education end up being more about winning than learning.

Studies across the globe have shown there is no correlation between time spent on studying and academic achievement.

It would be ideal if kindergarten children got homework, if they must, that lasts between ten and 20 minutes.

Even then, the homework should be for a good reason and of value, not a formality. The assignment should make the child become more excited about a topic or learning in general. Bombarding a nursery school child with homework every day results in high levels of stress and declining motivation.

I do not dispute that homework is necessary at senior levels of learning. But it should also be limited.

When schools insist on giving lower primary and kindergarten children homework every day, they are robbing a generation of their childhood. An efficient junior school system should be able to cover their day’s work within the school day.

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