School bus pulling up to school
(Photo courtesy of Sean Kearns / North Coast Journal)

Commentary: Reducing homework an added value for elementary students

a/Opinion by

There must be a child somewhere that cracked open a genie’s bottle. Collège de Saint-Ambroise, an elementary school in the Saguenay region of Quebec, has virtually banned homework.

Designed as a one-year pilot project, the school will forego doling out mandatory math problems and other after-school work, while retaining only minor studying and reading as required assignments.

This is not an entirely new concept. Indeed, Prince of Wales Public School in Barrie, Ontario, tried a similar program in 2008.

The so-called ban on homework is an appealing and intriguing project. Experts have long opined that the traditional approach to children’s education needs to be re-evaluated. Students are time-pressed throughout the school day and exhausted by the amount of additional work heaped onto their few hours of free time.

According to a review of literature by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), a group representing educators, studies have yet to find a causal relationship between homework and achievement. At best, studies have found  a correlation between the two factors. At Prince of Wales, administrators and teachers found an increase in student achievement, and the staff at Collège de Saint-Ambroise are aiming for similar positive effects.

Critics of the proposed plan argue that homework is designed as a tool for reinforcing lesson material, contributing to an increase in retention of knowledge and concepts. The mandatory activity prepares children for the rigours of high school workloads, instilling in them a sense of responsibility and valuable time management skills. However, these critics fail to acknowledge the taxing nature of homework on young  children.

Removing the burden of homework benefits both parents and students. Parents are generally under great pressure, balancing jobs and home life in constrained hours. Homework requires them to act as practitioners of someone else’s predetermined learning plan, devoting hours to rote worksheets and tasks, rather than practical learning. Additionally, some parents work more than one job and are simply unable to assist their children with their homework. Meanwhile, students are spending six hours a day purely in lessons, and are then given additional hours of work for their time at home. The result is that they undertake fewer extra curricular activities and lose out on their right to play. Children are being overworked, dissuading them from exercise derived from participation in sports and socialization from unstructured play. At the elementary school level, there are few advantages to homework––only detriments.

School boards need to rethink education, revitalizing and refining the process. Homework smothers a child’s natural curiosity and interest in subjects under mandatory, time-consuming work packets, math problems, and conjugating exercises. Children should be encouraged to take ownership of their learning outside the classroom, pursue their creativity and nurture new passions. Allowing for the practical application of teaching outside of lessons enhances child development and fosters a more well-rounded lifestyle for younger children.

The abolition of homework at Collège de Saint-Ambroise elementary school promises to undertake an exciting test that just might inspire a review of standard pedagogical practices that are often set in stone. Perhaps the next pilot project will study the effects of later morning class times for high school students, a concept that has long been advocated as a solution to inattentiveness in class. Only time will tell whether these reforms will see the light of day.