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Commentary: Should Holiday Homework Be Banned?

by CiCi
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MELBOURNE – As the June school holidays begin, many students and families find themselves torn between anticipation and apprehension, says Dr. Eugenia Koh-Chua, a former lecturer and mother of two.

While the break should signify a pause from school, the looming presence of holiday homework dampens the excitement. Despite the respite, students often face a deluge of assignments meant to reinforce academic progress.

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For parents and tutors, the mid-year break presents an opportunity to intensify academic preparation, especially with boot camps and revision programs for Primary 6 students preparing for their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). This duality raises a critical question: Should holiday breaks be free from homework, or is it an inescapable part of the academic journey?

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The Case for a Homework Ban

The debate on holiday homework isn’t confined to Singapore. In the Philippines, attempts to legislate a weekend homework ban have persisted since 2016. Similarly, China’s Double Reduction Policy of 2021 limits homework and bans private tutoring, while Poland has implemented a ban on graded homework for lower primary students.

These initiatives aim to reduce excessive homework and enhance student well-being, though their effectiveness is debated. In China, the ban has pushed the tutoring industry underground, leading to increased costs and greater educational inequality, highlighting the complexities of enforcing such measures.

Considering these global examples, one might ask if the solution lies in eliminating homework or understanding the underlying reasons for its perceived necessity by parents and schools.

The Benefits of Homework

Despite the controversy, educational research acknowledges homework’s potential benefits. It reinforces academic concepts, cultivates time management skills, and fosters independent learning. Additionally, homework keeps parents informed of their children’s progress.

However, an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey in 2017 revealed that 66.7% of parents with primary school children felt stressed by homework and transporting their children to school and tuition classes. Nearly 94% of parents called for a more manageable primary school curriculum, reflecting the struggle of balancing educational support with work demands in dual-income households.

Parents often delegate homework assistance to tuition teachers due to a lack of time, knowledge, and energy. Families spent an estimated S$1.4 billion on tuition in 2018, up from S$1.1 billion in 2012, underscoring the challenges parents face in supporting their children’s learning.

The Role of After-School Learning

Research consistently underscores the importance of play in children’s holistic development. Despite this, many parents feel compelled to enroll their children in tuition classes during holidays due to the pressures of a high-stakes education system. They fear that without academic support, their children might fall behind.

Teachers, too, recognize the value of tuition for weaker students, especially when class sizes prevent personalized attention. Consequently, they assign homework to meet familial expectations and demonstrate their effectiveness as educators.

Striving for Harmony

The ongoing debate about balancing work and play for students often neglects the unique needs of each child, family, and school. Instead of aiming for a rigid 50-50 balance, it might be more beneficial to seek a harmonious blend of work and play tailored to individual contexts.

This approach encourages flexibility, allowing for an optimal mix of activities that support both learning and well-being. Schools should involve students in discussions about homework, understanding their preferences to create more responsive policies.

Moving away from mandatory holiday homework towards recommended assignments could allow parents to decide the appropriate workload for their children. Many teachers already provide optional assignments via online portals during school holidays, which could be supplemented with explanatory videos to aid understanding.

Homework should prioritize inquiry-based and play-oriented tasks that engage students creatively and autonomously, leveraging the absence of classroom time constraints to deepen learning.

Conclusion

Through collaborative efforts, schools and families can create an environment that supports student success and well-being. By reimagining homework practices and holiday assignments, we can find the right balance between work and play, ensuring that students thrive academically and holistically during the June holidays.

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