The age-old argument about what is too much homework has been thrust back into the headlines ….this time in Spain where thousands of parents have started a rolling homework strike.
Beginning over the weekend, students from 12,000 schools across Spain were told by countless mums and dads not to do their weekend homework during November.
The Spanish Alliance of Parents’ Associations called the strike saying homework was detrimental to children.
A Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found Spanish children and teenagers have 6.5 hours of homework a week, compared with an average of 4.9 from a group of 38 other countries.
Spain ranked 11th on a list of 64 countries or locations in a PISA table covering the amount of homework given. Top of the list was Shanghai followed by Russia, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Italy, Ireland, Romania, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Spain.
The workload does not necessarily translate to better results for Spanish students – they have traditionally scored low results in maths, reading and science in other PISA reports.
By contrast, in Finland and South Korea, two of the countries with the best student performances, according to PISA, the average time spent on homework every week was less than three hours.
In addition to less homework the Finnish school year is shorter with longer holidays. Countering this, Finnish classes are much smaller (average about 15) than in Australia and the quality of the teachers greater with all teachers required to gain a Masters Degree.
So what does this say about the learning methods used in Spain?
CEAPA president Jose Luis Pazos says education in Spain has been very reliant on the traditional method of rote-learning – memorising work.
He stresses that what children have to learn is how to manage information and how to decide what to memorise and what not.
“Society has changed deeply, but the environment in the classroom hasn’t,” he says.
The homework debate has been raging in other countries too, and it is not just parents who are concerned.
In the US state of Texas, a secondary school teacher near Dallas sent a letter to parents telling them that she will not be assigning homework to students this year. Instead, she said she wanted them to spend more time with their families.
A high school in Britain scrapped traditional homework at the start of term in favour of a more “independent” approach to learning.
And even in South Korea, the authorities are considering reducing homework for younger pupils even further. The Yonhap news agency reported in August that the city education office in Seoul was banning primary schools from giving homework to lower grade students, starting next year.
According to PISA there is a correlation between the amount of hours a student spends doing homework and exam results.
“But if the student spends too much time doing assignments, the effect stops being positive,” says PISA researcher Daniel Salinas.
“After four hours of homework a week, it is not so meaningful.”
The average in Spain is six hours a week – the same as in the US, and an hour more than in the UK.
Others take a different view. Jose Miguel Campo, a member of the Professional College of Education of Madrid, concedes that there’s a lack of consistency across classrooms.
Yet he says homework is important for a child’s learning process.
“Personally, I believe that it is important to develop the capacity of doing work at home, and I don’t think that six hours a week is excessive,” he says.
In 2014, The Australian newspaper highlighted OECD data showing Australian 15-year-olds were set six hours of homework a week – higher than the OECD average of 4.9 hours.
Queensland education department guidelines in 2012 suggest: no homework for Prep students and weekly limits of one hour for Years 1 to 3; two to three hours for Years 4 and 5; three to four hours for Years 6 and 7; and no more than five hours a week for Years 8 and 9. For Years 10 to 12 it says hours will vary according to individual learning needs.
Do you think too much homework can be detrimental to family life and what do you think is a fair amount?