Omaira Alam –
Often, I come across parents who express joy at the thought that their kindergartener came home with
homework, and more often than not, this is the case starting from the first day of school. While visiting
family in Toronto, Canada, we all thought it was so cute that my then two-and-a-half-year-old son would
do “homework” mimicking his much older cousins.
Homework is being given at younger and younger ages. This is definitely the case with Islamic schools
which have started giving homework at even the preschool level as way of competing with other private
and public schools. It has become a marker of a “good” school.
However, education expert Alfie Kohn states:
“First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in
elementary school. In fact, there isn’t even a positive correlation between, on the one hand, having
younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure
of achievement. If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either
because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do
homework despite what the evidence says.”
As a teacher, and specifically, a teacher of special education, I’ve always wondered about the benefits of
homework and, in particular, what purpose does it serve for children at the elementary level.
Considering there is no research to back up the practice, what about the practical level: does doling out
piles of homework benefit elementary students?
Taking the example of Finland, the most successful education system in the world, no homework is given
till students are 13-14 years old. This can be compared with the U.S. where students as young as ten
years old have at least an hour of homework every night.
I am a firm believer against homework or having homework with no purpose besides completing what
you already know. If it adds to the learning, I’m all for it in an age-appropriate way. But if it serves simply
to appease the parents – “Yes, my child’s school is excellent; homework from the first day” – then it
makes me wonder, who really is benefiting from all this busy work? For such a young age it seems to
take away from the learning at home that can enrich and enhance the learning done at school.
I also believe there needs to be a period where children are allowed to let what they’ve learned simmer.
Give them opportunities to reflect on their learning, rather than moving them to the next item on the
list. Islamic schools, instead of following public school trends, should follow research-based, and
evidence-based practices and become the trendsetters particularly for students in the elementary
grades. Ditch the homework, give it to the dog and let the children play!