A student returning home after long school hours with a number of homework is not new to parents with children in nursery, primary and junior secondary schools in Nigeria. Parents have become used to this style of learning that it becomes unusual when a child comes home without an assigned academic work to be done at home by the class teacher.
Most parents take steps to verify and in some cases a call is put across to the teacher to ascertain the child’s explanation. For some impatient parents, the child is either accused of lying, being lazy or not showing sufficient interest to his/her studies.
With today’s parents facing myriad of challenges of near absence of basic infrastructure to low income and difficulty to afford basic needs of life, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to spend quality time with their children. To ensure the children’s safety while away, parents come up with such demands like extra lessons, private tutorials and homework.
Common among low income parents who spend more time outside the home in order to fend for their families, the demand on teachers for homework goes beyond their desire for their children’s academic excellence. Caught in the middle of meeting the employer’s target and satisfying parents’ demand for extra time for their children, the pupils are mercilessly left at the receiving end with loads of homework that oftentimes defeat their purpose.
Meanwhile, the debate on the usefulness of homework has been an unending one, it is believed in some quarters that homework helps students to learn time management, cultivate study habit and the art of taking responsibility, starting with their studies and ultimately their lives. According to Dr. Robert Walker of the University of Sydney, “homework tends to focus on three things: student learning and achievement; the development of student learning skills; and parental involvement.”
Conversely, a critic of homework, Alfie Kohn, has questioned why teachers and parents should continue to insist on overloading students with homework when it is believed to have no definite evidence proving the overall learning benefit of homework to children’s academic performance.
Arguing that homework can be detrimental to children’s development, Kohn said it robs families of quality evening time together, not allowing children enough time to rest and that constant busywork only turns them off school work and kills their interest for schooling.
“There was no consistent linear or curvilinear relation between the amount of time spent on homework and the child’s level of academic achievement.”
Interestingly, while educators around the world clamour for the delivery of education with international content and outlook that would offer relevant global experience, many have cautioned against the wholesome embrace of international content that is devoid of local content. According to experts, every educational policy must first be suitable for its immediate environment; reflect the culture of the people before any other consideration. This makes it pertinent for those involved in education delivery to adopt the most suitable method for their unique environment.
This explains why the little or no homework method adopted by countries like Finland, South Korea, Czech Republic among others should be treated with caution. A study on these countries’ education system revealed that their delivery method is designed to suit their environment, facilities, human and material resources.
Stressing that the adoption of homework or no-homework method in the teaching and learning process depends on the teaching method generally adopted by any country, Mr. Adedamola Olofa said while people might be tempted to believe various reports condemning the use of homework, stakeholders in education should get the right information.
Providing some insights, Olofa said: “The Finnish learning approach factored that stance of no-homework. Finnish schools adopt learning-by-doing (kinesthetic) approach across board, while Nigeria and most African countries are still using auditory (explanation) approach. Homework is not needed when learning contacts are kinesthetic.”
According to him, a lot of theories against take home assignments are unfounded, as some of the reports stem from personal assumptions, adding that take home assignments/home drills remain a form of learning reinforcement. He said irrespective of the age, the continent or country, homework remains relevant depending on the country’s adopted method of teaching.
“Be it 18th or 21st century, the basis of giving assignments still remains – it is a form of learning reinforcement. Learning reinforcement is expedient especially for early year learners and lower primary simply because majority of the learners in this section learn by repetition.”
Olofa added that man tends to remember 10 per cent of what he read and 20 per cent of what he listened to, “so in order to increase retention, homework comes in to increase the frequency of contact, hence, the percentage of retention.”
For Ms. Gloria Otevi, a primary five teacher in a Lagos private school, homework is an approach to learning, which she and many parents have found helpful in many ways. She said apart from providing the opportunity for her pupils to build on what they had learnt in the classroom, it enables her assess individual pupil’s understanding of the topic taught, and timely completion of the scheme of work.
“We spend maximum of 15 or 16 weeks in school every term and within this space of time are some days of holidays that eat into the limited time we have in covering the scheme of work for a term. I doubt if any teacher will meet up without assigning some of the works to be done to the students, especially topics that have been treated in the class.
“Teachers do not give homework arbitrarily; there are provision for it in the curriculum and their textbooks. That is why most of the subjects have workbooks”.
Reacting to the issue of overloading pupils with homework, Otevi said neither her pupils nor their parents complain. “In fact, I usually get calls from some of them to know why their children were not given homework. These parents know their children. Some of them will not ordinarily take their books to read. So, while their parents are away in their business places, the only way they feel their children can read is by asking that we give them enough homework that will keep them busy.”
Stressing, that homework serves as a quick feedback mechanism for the teacher, she said it also helps in discovering individual student’s strength, builds up their confidence and spurs their reading habit. “Like the pupils in my class, when you ask them to read their literature and summarise in four or five line sentences, some of them will read it, come to me tell you the story first, some will come to you to ask one question or the other, yet some will wait to copy from others. In all of these, I learn to understand their personalities better and treat them individually.
“Homework is very important for the children’s academic development, mastery of subject topics and better performance. Practice they say makes perfect, that is exactly what teachers aim at when we give homework to school children.”
Arguing that many teachers do not have a proper understanding of the purpose of homework, Mrs. Cynthia Orakwe said the ignorance of some teachers is evident in the way and even the number of homework they give to their pupils.
She cited the instance of her four-year-old son, a nursery two pupil who brings home about four different subjects every day, saying that as a working mother, she finds it difficult to cope as well as the child. “I do not see any sense in giving a take home assignment that a child cannot easily do with little assistance. A case in hand was when my son, Chizitara was asked to write multiplication table two. Looking at it, I could not understand what exactly the teacher wanted to achieve and I did not want her to overestimate his ability, so I left him to do it by himself. The child copied it from one to 12 and multiplied each by one. And the answer he got is what multiplication table one will give you, if there is anything like that.”
Orakwe said she was forced to allow her son “mess up” the homework because her efforts to draw the school’s attention to previous undeserving and burdensome amount of homework has often been rebuffed by the school administrator who claimed to be operating on a very high standard.
She said Nigerian teachers are not alone in the wrong application of homework, adding, “just like we have here in Nigeria, in some other parts of the world, homework has become a stereotype, so widely adopted by schools, teachers and even parents. Unfortunately, not many teachers and parents care to evaluate the effectiveness of this learning tool on their children.
“Over the years, several studies and reports have emerged condemning the use of homework as a process of imparting knowledge or even to prepare and strengthen students’ capacity for better academic performance. I am one of those who believe that the use of homework has been seriously abused especially from the primary school level.”
While stressing that the relevance of homework cannot be overruled, the mother of three called on government to reform the country’s education system. “I am challenging Nigerian government to rise to the long overdue need of reforming the nation’s education sector. A lot of things are wrong with the implementation process of our educational policy. I believe the reformation process will set the education system on a firm footing. It will expose some of the abuse prevalent in the system, including the misuse of homework by teachers.”
Mr. Cornelius Ogunsalu, who described teachers that give homework without devoting enough time for proper assessment as being dishonest, said, “teachers that give copious amounts of homework to students (all) the time are for the most part being dishonest. Considering the fact that they do not have enough time in any given day to properly go through each student’s work and grade them.
“Children should not be bogged down in the evenings working on homework for hours. There has to be room for extracurricular activities and for the children to be able to help at home in the evenings. Parents need to engage their students at home, spend quality time with them and provide their children other forms of developmental activities beyond the classroom to help reinforce what they are learning in school.”