Are students in Dubai burdened with too much homework?

[While parents and students say that excessive homework is resulting in unhealthy stress levels, schools agree that homework is effective only if “applied the right way.”]

Homework needs to be designed in a way that extends and reinforces learning.

Classwork, extracurricular activities, family time, play time, volunteering and then iPad time – students in Dubai may have a lot going on.

And after finishing all these activities, they have one more important task. their homework. But the question being asked by parents and child therapists for a while now is if excessive homework is resulting in unhealthy amounts of stress in children. Last week, Khaleej Times asked students if they find “too much homework stressful” and more than 20 pupils wrote in agreeing with the statement, with some saying it can affect their “mental and physical abilities”.

Schools also responded to the query of whether too much homework can be harmful to a student and many responded that homework can be effective, but only if applied “in the right way”.

Rory Galvin, the head of secondary at Uptown School, said homework needs to be designed in a way that extends and reinforces learning. “In my 18 years of education experience, the two biggest complaints I regularly receive from parents are ‘my child gets too much homework’ and ‘my child doesn’t get enough homework’, often from parents of children in the same class,” Galvin said. “My personal view? First and foremost, kids need time to be kids, particularly in primary school. The opportunity to climb a tree and play in the park with friends is as important a learning experience as anything they have been assigned in class.

“Secondly, family time is incredibly important and should be protected without the kids having to come home after a very full day of studying and launch into more of the same.” He added: “Homework should never supersede things that really matter, such as exercise, sleep and social interactions which are vital for students’ cognitive, physical and emotional development. Having said that, I believe homework has a place in secondary school students’ lives, as long as it has been designed to consolidate, extend and reinforce learning. Students should also have choice in what they do for homework and receive targeted teacher feedback. If all of these components are present, homework is worthwhile.”

One school in Dubai is trying to ensure homework is attractive to students, through a new initiative they have introduced to pupils. ‘The Learning Menu’ initiative by the Gems Founders School allows students to handpick what kind of homework they want to do.

Ian Plant, head of secondary at the school, said: “This initiative allows students to research topics through a choice-based approach, much like a food menu. Students pick their ‘starter’, ‘mains’ and ‘dessert’ and add any extras that will build and extend their projects. On this home learning journey, parents and students are encouraged to document their work by taking photographs and videos.

“These, in turn, can be uploaded to the Gems Founders School Twitter or Instagram pages. In the early phases of this initiative, we found that students are more confident in planning their time outside school and more strategic in their ability to manage sleep deprivation, exhaustion and/or stress levels. I strongly believe that encouraging this change of mindset and approach about the traditional format of homework can only be a good thing to develop student creativity, productivity and outcomes.”

Balance, moderation is key, say students

Schools may be implementing new strategies to make homework attractive, but students are still feeling the “stress”, which they say is being caused by excessive home learning.

More than 20 students wrote in to Khaleej Times saying that excessive homework can lead to stress. Seventh grade student Zahra Abdul Rasheed believes “too much homework can be harmful”.

“It may affect the students mental and physical abilities and it may even also affect the student’s family. Students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society. In my opinion, more than two hours of homework every night is counterproductive,” Rasheed said.

A grade 5 student in Dubai, Himanshee Bhargava said that homework should be “like a balanced diet”. She believes the content of homework should be able to make the student productive, instead of feeling “overworked”.

“The idea of homework is not to stress but to develop positive study habits that can help us well throughout life,” she said. “I think homework is just like a balanced diet, which when served in right amounts, keeps our brain working. Our school gives research work as home assignments, which helps me to explore topics outside the course books. Homework, if planned well, gives enough time for recreation too. But, I strongly agree that too much homework can be stressful and lead to physical health problems.”

Student Harshita Shah said homework should be in “minimal amounts” as it will allow the student to take part in extracurricular activities. “Too much homework makes you slog because of the lack of concentration after a certain point of time, then it becomes a chore rather than an extended learning experience,” she said.

Parents, too, feel the heat when their children bring home too much school work. One mother of two, Zainab Nazzal, said that her daughters – both in KG2 – spend their weekends doing homework.

“They get a lot of reading and math assignments. They have to finish story books and do a lot of math sheets. The school gives story books and worksheets that will be used throughout the year, but they ask the students to get started on them right away and work through them slowly,” she said. “We do not go out on weekends because they have to finish their homework and study. Sometimes, when we do go out, they stay up late completing their reading. But they wake in the morning feeling tired and that effects their entire sleeping pattern throughout the week.”

Bringing home schoolwork – a heated issue over the decades

Andrew Mitchell (Head of Primary at Greenfield Community School)

Homework comes with a great deal of cultural baggage. The schooling you experienced personally as a child will more than likely dictate your expectations about what homework assignments should be being brought home by children today. The problem, however, is that the type, amount and purpose of homework varies extensively across the globe. From those who would wish for a very limited amount or even no homework, to others who want multiple hours of regimented practice each night. In today’s competitive world, these beliefs about what will be the best thing for own children’s success are only amplified. Translated into an international school setting, the teachers and school leaders have the impossible task of trying to satisfy both ends of the homework wish list and everything in-between.

So, what does the research say about homework? How much is good for our children? Unfortunately, the academics and the scientific studies also fail to agree on things:

The conclusions of more than a dozen reviews of the homework literature conducted between 1960 and 1989 varied greatly. Their assessments ranged from homework having positive effects, no effects, or complex effects to the suggestion that the research was too sparse or poorly conducted to allow trustworthy conclusions.

The research into homework does point to some common themes and interesting questions:

For young primary children, homework is of little or no value and students are regularly given too much

There is some evidence to suggest that secondary students, and mainly those above Grade 10, benefit academically from homework, however, this is one of a number of factors that can affect achievement in the span of a student’s school life and the effects of homework are quite small.

Practicing something at home can bring benefits, but you need to be doing it right to begin with.

Homework that lacks a clear purpose or rationale can lead to resentment and ‘students not liking school’. Enjoyment of school, particularly at the secondary level, is linked to academic achievement.

Student involvement in the setting of homework is important “when students are treated with respect, when the assignments are worth doing, most kids will relish the challenge”

Students are notoriously bad at reporting how much time they actually spend on homework, and for younger students, with overzealous parents, there is the age-old teacher question of who really did the homework?

When I think back to the different homework tasks that I have assigned over the years, those that have been most beneficial to students have had several key characteristics (of which I sometimes managed to achieve): it has been interesting to students and they have seen the purpose; it has not taken hours; it involved an amount of reflection on what was being learnt; and it involved collaboration either with peers, the teacher or the family.

In conclusion, I would be wary of remembering your own homework experience with rose-tinted spectacles, be cautious about the school or teacher that assigns piles of homework and that it is better to question ‘why’ a school assigns homework rather than ‘how much’.

Do you find too much homework stressful?

Too much homework and assignments can cause stress. It also reduces the amount of time children spend with their families. Long school hours and extra homework overburdens students, so he/she cannot engage in any other activities. At times, it takes late nights to complete.

Jesica Mary Sajeev, grade 8

Twice the amount of recommended homework is reported to be given to students. Children often develop hopelessness and suffer from insomnia. I am not totally against the idea of homework. But let us not forget that ‘too much of anything is good for nothing’.

Hiba Moideen, grade 11

Too much of home assign-ments are not good for students. When I come home, I want to relax my mind playing with my friends, spending time with my parents and talking to my sister. If we are given too much homework, we develop anxiety and build up stress in our life.

Chirag Saggi, grade 5

Too much homework can harm the child. It can cause stress and put pressure on the student, affecting his or her performance at school. It can also use up the time kept aside for daily revision. It can also lead to lack of sleep, again affecting the child in his/her academics.

Sarangi Narayan, grade 9

When students are burdened with too much homework, it suppresses their interests and hobbies. It often leads to lack of concentration, high stress levels, and they may even develop a hatred for studies. Homework must not interfere with the holistic development of the student.

Shreya Sriram, grade 11

Source: Khaleej Times