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.