Is homework beneficial? Should kids have homework? Or is homework a waste of time? Today, we are going to look at this debate, practice thinking in English, and learn some useful vocabulary at the same time!
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Assignment (n) – a piece of work given to someone, typically as part of their studies or job
I have a lot of assignments to complete this week
To cater for someone/something (phrasal v) – to provide what is wanted or needed by someone or something
The club caters for children below the age of 10
To memorize (v) – to learn something so that you will remember it exactly
When I was at school, we were required to memorize vocabulary every week
Perspective (n) – a particular way of considering something
He writes from a Marxist perspective
Achievement (n) – the act of achieving something (finishing something successfully) or of achieving things generally
This school has a history of outstanding achievement
Detrimental (adj) – causing harm or damage
These chemicals have a detrimental impact on the environment
Prevalent (adj) – existing very commonly or happening often
That disease is more prevalent among children
Social inequality (n) – the condition of unequal access to the benefits of society
Universities have been accused of increasing social inequality
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What should children do after they finish school? Should they have to finish their schoolwork, or do extra assignments, in the form of homework? Should they join clubs, play sport, learn the piano, or take swimming lessons? Should they go to cram schools, or private classes, to keep on studying or learning? Or should they be allowed to relax and rest after a day of studying at school?
Depending on where you are from, you might have a different perspective on what children should do after school. Let me give you a few examples.
In my case, in the UK we would usually finish classes around 3pm and leave school straight away. I would usually have about an hour of homework, but not too much, and I played rugby in the evening twice a week. Compared to a lot of other countries, it was relatively relaxed – a lot of the time I’d just sit and watch TV or play in the park with my friends for a few hours.
However, I used to be an elementary school and junior high school teacher in Japan. And I was amazed at how different children’s lives were compared to my own experiences. My students would finish school around 4pm and straight away begin their school clubs. We have clubs in the UK, but they don’t take place every day like they do in Japan. After they finished with the clubs, many students would then head to cram school – and continue studying with private tutors. And they also received quite a lot of homework.
I’m sure your own country, culture, and experiences might be different to the UK and Japanese situations I’ve just described. But what students should do after school can be a controversial issue.
In China, they once had a large and thriving afterschool education industry. Students from middle class families would attend extra education in an effort to get the best possible marks in the country’s university entrance exams. This industry was a big business… until earlier this year!
China decided to shut down and ban after school education schools. Rich families can still hire private tutors who come to their houses, but the schools that catered to millions of middle-class children are no longer allowed to operate. Why? Well part of the reason is for children’s health and well-being – the government was concerned that children were studying for far too long.
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History of homework
Homework has a long history – probably as long as formal education has existed. Pliny the Younger, the famous writer from Ancient Rome, demanded that his followers and supporters to practice speeches at home. The word “homework” actually dates from the Roman civilization.
Moving through history, monks and religious scholars in the Middle Ages engaged in memorization exercises. For a long time, education was primarily available only to the people (men) who wanted to study religion. They would spend their free time reciting and memorizing religious texts – a kind of homework.
As formal education became more widespread and common across Europe in the 19th century, the idea of homework also developed. Beginning in German “people’s schools” students were given assignments or tasks to complete at home – other European countries quickly copied the German approach and it spread across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States.
However, the reception to homework wasn’t always positive – did you know homework was actually banned in California for children under 15 between the years 1901 and 1917? Education activists and reformers believed that homework would have a negative effect on the health of children. Homework remained unpopular until the middle of the 20th century – one major argument was that children should spend their free time helping their families and households.
From the 1950s onwards homework became increasingly popular. It was seen as a way of increasing the amount of education a child receives and therefore improving a country’s future economic and technological power. Research in the last 10 years suggests that the average American teenager spends around one hour a day doing homework – and high school students receive on average 3.5 hours of homework a week from each of their teachers.
But is homework actually beneficial? Or do the negatives outweigh the benefits? During the pandemic, when students spent their whole day studying at home, the concept of homework began to be questioned once again.
I thought I’d present two different perspectives on homework – just like in my previous debate episodes. I want you all to listen both sides of the argument, think about the issues in English, and then decide for yourself whether homework is a good thing for children.
Is Homework Useful?
Yes – Homework is beneficial!!
First, proponents of homework argue that it improves student achievement – more specifically, research suggests that homework increases the chances of students entering college, improves grades, and increases average test scores!
Let me tell you more details about this research. First, a study in the High School Journal showed that students who spent over 30 minutes on homework a day averaged 40 points higher on tests than students who did no homework at all. Second, two meta-studies on the impact of homework (so research papers collecting and comparing lots of different studies) found that homework was effective in improving academic performance and achievement most of the time.
And third, the Institute for the Study of Labor has demonstrated that homework leads to better grades and higher likelihood to attend college – on average, boys who enter college in the US did over 3 hours extra homework at school.
To really understand something, students need to apply what they learn by themselves. As children usually only remember about 50% of information in a class, homework is often essential to make sure students receive a full education. It allows them to practice and retain more information.
Moreover, homework can teach useful life skills. Homework helps children and students to develop time management, self-reliance, critical thinking, and discipline. All useful things for children to learn!
Homework also allows parents and families to be involved with and keep track of children’s education. Parents can understand the school curriculum as well as their children’s weaknesses and strengths. Evidence suggests that is parents are involved in a child’s education, the child’s grades are likely to increase.
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No – homework is not beneficial!!
On the other hand, there are people who believe that homework is not beneficial or is problematic. Some argue that too much homework can actually be detrimental. Homework, especially when given in large quantities, can lead to stress, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, weight loss, and other health problems. 82% Californians high school students reported that they were “often or always stressed by schoolwork.”
Interestingly, high levels of homework is also connected to increased levels of cheating. 90% of middle school students in the US report that they have copied someone else’s homework. In fact, I’m sure many of you listening today copied homework when you were young. High levels of high school and college students also report cheating at least once. And in one study, 43% of parents admitted to finishing a child’s homework. What is the point of homework if cheating is so prevalent?
There is also an issue called the “homework gap.” Not all students are able to complete homework to the same level – and this was highlighted during the pandemic. Millions of children in countries like the UK and USA do not have access to a strong internet connection, computers, or other devices to help them complete homework. Some children do not have the right materials at home, an adequate space to complete their homework, or a supportive family.
Some studies have suggested that up to 95% of students need the internet to complete all of their homework. But studies also reveal the up to 30% of American students did not have adequate internet connections. Homework often serves as a way to increase social inequality. The students who struggle to complete homework are often those without the resources to afford internet connections, computers, or desks. Instead, opponents of homework argue that education should take place predominantly in school where all resources are shared equally.
And finally, there is evidence that homework is not always helpful. In fact, there are a lot of studies that show homework is pretty pointless for young children. According to one study on elementary school students, “homework had no association with achievement gains.” Education researchers actually suggest that young children learn a lot more from not doing homework – going outside, playing, and doing other activities is far more beneficial.
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What do you think? Is homework beneficial? Should children be given homework to complete after school? On the one hand, homework has been shown to increase grades, involve parents in education, and teach children important life skills. On the other hand, homework can cause stress, increase cheating, increase social inequality, and might be pointless for younger children.
Personally, I think that the majority of education should take place in schools. Students should be given enough time and space to relax and enjoy themselves – and shouldn’t spend hours and hours doing homework afterschool. But, I want to know your opinions! What do you think?
Is homework beneficial? Can you think of an alternative to homework? Did homework help you at school?
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I'm so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!