Homework

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The road to Hell, paved with good intentions, is also lined with the road-signs explaining that road.  Like Department of Education Secretary Armin Lustro, for example, with DepEd Memorandum No. 392: where no homework shall be assigned to students in public elementary schools.

On the one hand it makes sense.  What can be agreed upon as “extremely difficult homework” – issued only by incompetent lazybones in the teaching profession – can and do rob children of time spent on play, family, and friends.  Yet this can be a bit too short-sighted – and as with many things in the Aquino Administration, well-intentioned – to think that a child’s school life is completely different and separate from the rest of the aspects of his or her life.

More than the usual heckles of “lazy children” and “lazy policies,” I think the “laziness” here lies more in the role of education in our society.  The fact that homework is being undervalued here – where it seems to have not occurred to the DepEd’s mind that homework is supposed to be an activity for the entire family – means that we still view education as an external need fulfilled by classrooms and libraries.  When in fact, to use an old phrase, it doesn’t end in the four corners of the classroom.

The word “education” comes from the Latin word educare, which means “to bring up.”  (Ex, “from within,” and duco, “to lead.”)  In ancient societies, like Rome and Greece, education was a responsibility of the State (even if there was no public education at the time) as much as it was a personal responsibility.  Parents, being the primary teachers of their children, do more than merely teach the child skills needed to survive, but also the values and responsibilities every person has to the State.

But I digress.  Beyond the values of self-study, time management, and independent thinking that homework inculcates, it has always been transactional: not doing homework always metes a consequence.  The thing is, the more that parents think that education is the responsibility of teachers alone than a mutual responsibility, they inadvertently contribute to the “banking” of the child: that the child is sent to school in order to “get a deposit” of ideas, earn the diploma, and leave.  The purpose of homework, in its most ideal sense, is to extend the borders of education into daily living.  Hence advanced readings, experiments, essay work, and other activities: education is sustained and practiced in daily life, more than just being an eight-hour trip to the classroom.

Homework is not just about discipline; in fact, it should be quality time.  Doing experiments at home should open up the inquisitiveness of a child to explore the physical universe, that the world becomes his or her laboratory.  Reading assignments over the weekend opens up the thirst of knowledge for a child, that the reading assignments are more than just requirements, but unleash the child’s imagination.  Writing and art assignments help children become more creative; not only can these things be done at school, but they can be done everywhere.  Homework should be a family activity, where parents become part of education, where their own minds are stimulated, and their parenting skills face a welcome challenge of bringing education into every situation a child faces in society.

To see well-thought-out homework shouldn’t be seen as a burden, whether it’s a hurdle to the mall, a barrier from Internet time, or an obstacle to the television set.  Even the most fatigued, overworked parents who value education and love their children would take the time to foster the minds of their offspring by making homework fun and enjoyable.  It’s about good parenting, good values, and priorities.  Things we already know, but are perhaps lost in the rat race, the social effects of media, consumerism, the works; things that are lost to us because we were educated in very different ways.

With the Internet, better distance-learning education systems, and more intelligent and curious children in our midst, shouldn’t the question be how we can craft more homework for our kids?

There are other necessities and things to be weighed more than homework, like the purpose of education itself in the Philippines.  How do we align our educational system for development and for personal emancipation?  How do we make practice from theories?  How do we motivate poor students to go to school with the promise that education holds more value than the necessities of helping eke out a living?

The fact is that the Department of Education has more pressing issues to attend to than homework.  The lack of classrooms, the lack of competent teachers, the lack of facilities, and a curriculum in dire need of revision – and an educational system in dire need of a defined situation – bear more weight in the long-haul commitment towards educational reform.  As for the homework, keep them: the most successful students I have known never had to be told twice to do them, even on a Saturday.

4 comments on “Homework”

    • J
    • September 18, 2010
    Reply

    Well written as always. However, I have to disagree on several points.

    It seems to me that your beef with the DepEd memorandum hinges on your fear that it undervalues homeworks and this leads to the reinforcement of some people’s assumption that education is an external need that is under the exclusive sphere of schools which, in turn, would lead parents to believe that the teachers have an exclusive responsibility for their children’s education.

    But, if I’m not mistaken, the memorandum does not call for total abolition of homeworks in public elementary school. It only calls on teachers not to assign homeworks to their students during weekends. In the Inquirer report you linked, Education Secretary Armin Luistro was quoted as saying that the memo’s intent is for the teachers to give a “reasonable” amount of school work to be done at home. He didn’t say that the teachers should stop assigning homeworks totally. So your argument regarding homeworks being quality time for parents and kids is not mutually exclusive.

    At any rate, we also have to consider that many students of public elementary schools in this country do not have the luxury to do tons of schoolwork during weekends because they have to work or help their parents work. These, I think, are a form of education too.

    Having said these, I disagree with your belief that the memorandum reinforces the view of many that education stops in the four corners of the classroom and that it falls exclusively within the teacher’s sphere. On the contrary, I think letting students have tons of school work at home is the thing that reinforces that view. This is because, by giving too much value on school work like essays, experiments and other form of assignments, parents are conditioned to think that education occurs ONLY within the curriculum formulated by DepEd and the lesson plans prepared by teachers.

    The fact is that, you are right, figuratively speaking, education should not stop in the four corners of the classroom; therefore education should not be limited to academics. As you have mentioned, we now have the Internet and television. These tools can provide avenues of learning to inquisitive young minds as much as homeworks could. Of course, TV and the Internet can be a double-edged sword; children may abuse instead of use them during weekends. But that’s where parenting comes in. It’s up for the parents to regulate their gradeschool kids. The concerned parent will use these tools to help their children learn things not taught in school, something that can be encouraged if the parent will have more time with their kids on weekends.

    This is not to say that learning at home (which is a family event as you said) should be limited to avenues outside of the academic curriculum or well-thought lesson plans by teachers. Homeworks would still be done during weekdays after all. Also parent’s participation in their children’s learning at home can still occur when they help their kids review in preparation for major exams. The point is that there must be a balance, and that I think is the intent of this memorandum.

    Sure, doing homeworks during weekend is quality time too; but it is quality time spent under the teacher’s terms. I believe parents should be given the chance to spend quality time with their kids the way they want to, and heavy school work in weekends is a hurdle to this.

    In fact, this belief is shared by at least one renowned educator. Fr. Rogelio B. Alarcon, OP, a former presidential adviser of educational reforms, even founded a school in 1972 on the precept of no homeworks and no grades.

    1. Reply

      J,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response to my entry. However, I need to raise some points again.

      First, the conscientious teacher won’t provide homework that’s solely within the plantilla/lesson plan: only a lazy one would do so. Weekend homework is supposed to consider activities outside school hours and premises and is supposed to help students sustain learning regardless of whether they’re in school or not. The conscientious teacher would provide homework with practical applications instead of something merely banked.

      Having said that, the memorandum does reinforce the view that education and learning stops somewhere, that it is never continuous, that it is only useful during class hours. A “healthy balance,” at least from how I view the phrase, would be to disregard education at some point and just make it part of a schedule, instead of something that permeates every necessary aspect of life, which it should.

      I agree with you on good parenting, and it is precisely those tools that you mentioned that should make weekend homework fun. Yet good parents who also value education would help facilitate that weekend balance of work and play for Jack, so to speak; it’s not a weekend under the teacher’s terms, but under the kid’s role as a student.

      However, I think that educational policies should always be considered within the rubric of reform: how could we make weekend homework relevant if we don’t take the time to build museums and zoos and other places for families to visit over the weekend, for example? Or if the teacher or department merely sends out next week’s quizzes as weekend homework? Maybe there wouldn’t even be a need for weekend homework if the curriculum, lessons, and methods used would sufficiently and efficiently maximize a five-day school week.

    • J
    • September 19, 2010
    Reply

    Thanks for the reply.

    I agree that a good teacher would always use creative methods to make homeworks as practical and also at times enjoyable for students. This calls for homeworks that are non-traditional in nature, i.e. not solely within what’s in the lesson plan. That’s the ideal way. However, in reality, many of the teachers do limit the homework they give to the traditional assignments like essays, take-home problems and the likes. I think that’s one of the reasons parents are filing significant number of complaints. At any rate, a conscientious teacher would still be able to assign creative learning activities at home during weekdays. If we consider public grade schools, they usually have two or three shifts; which means that pupils don’t usually spend the whole day inside the campus. This means that there is plenty of time for students to do meaningful learning activities at home during weekdays.

    Perhaps “the memorandum does reinforce the view that education and learning stops somewhere, that it is never continuous, that it is only useful during class hours” if we define education as learning through experiments, research, essays and other teacher-assigned and curriculum-prescribed activities. But education can also exist outside these things. A friend of mine, for instance, said she learned conversational English not from school but from American TV, for example. Many learned tons from Discovery and History channels. Heck, I learned about the String Theory from Michio Kaku’s YouTube videos and not from my science teacher. These non-conventional ways of learning are education too; the thing is, most people don’t realize that they are. By giving too much value on homeworks, the pupils and their parents end up under-appreciating the value of other enjoyable ways of learning. The better parents understand the values of these activities, the more they realize that the kid’s learning is their responsibility as much as it it the teacher’s.

    You are ofcourse right. Good parenting would make sure that, during weekends, the kids get a healthy balance between schoolwork and play. But apparently, the parents can’t manage to give their kids this healthy balance precisely because the teachers give too much homeworks; hence, their complaints.

    But at the end of the day, we are only seeing things from the perspective of a middle class perspective. We have to consider also that majority of the pupils are in the lower class. They don’t have the luxury of time to devote to homeworks, conventional or not. Many of them have to work on weekends. So you are right, educational policies should indeed always be considered within the rubric of reform.

    • gbert
    • September 29, 2010
    Reply

    hi Marck, first off, i’d like to give you kudos on this piece. this enlightened me in different areas.

    i can’t agree more with this line “The purpose of homework, in its most ideal sense, is to extend the borders of education into daily living.” if i might add, homeworks teach the students how to be responsible. responsibility is such an important word to be ignored and is something we should live up with. it’s very crucial in our decision-making. and as young as kids, it should teach the children to be responsible in their education, the value of it and the importance of communication to the parents especially if they need help. this is why, the parents should be responsible enough to guide their children and help them with their homework.

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