'Free paper soon bun' — Homework time
Who dares to teach must never cease to learn
— John Cotton Dana
HOMEWORK is often a bad word for students. Yet, homework, otherwise known as practicing, is an important element in a student's overall success. Over the years, the issue of homework has been controversial and contentious. Opinions concerning homework are split among educators, parents and even students. Educators have diverse opinions about the need for homework. Parents, too, also have strong views about how often, how much, and what types of homework their children should have, with many students believing the practice of homework should end with immediate effect.
As soon as a student begins formal education much demand is placed on the life of that student. Sometimes the demand on one's time may be outside the realm of the classroom, such as caring for younger siblings or having a part-time job, especially in this harsh economic climate. Then there is also involvement in extra-curricular activities, which many students find appealing.
Educators must be mindful of students' time and therefore, consequences for not doing homework should be sensible and fair. For example, if a particular student has a good track record for always submitting homework on time, but if for some reason the student misses a deadline to hand in his/her homework, it would be useful in such a situation to apply some amount of leniency. In such circumstances, the teacher could probably then deduct points depending on the nature of the homework.
Teachers, at all times, must be cognisant of the message(s) that they send to their students in terms of how they treat all issues in the classroom. Sometimes we tend to forget that the hidden curriculum is far more powerful than the subject area curriculum guideline.
There are three factors to consider regarding the setting of homework in order for students to benefit as much as possible. Factors such as maintaining equity and time are important to maximising the benefits of homework. It is very important that, when assigning homework, educators ensure that all students have equal opportunities for success as this speaks to the core of fairness. Students whose parents/guardians are available and able to assist with homework clearly have an advantage over those whose parents are unable to help with homework due sometimes to the educational limitations of the parents.
Assigning with purpose
The purpose of the homework is crucial. Homework should never be assigned solely so that students have homework. Homework can be designed to practise a current skill, such as learning multiplication, identifying plants, recognising continents or understanding an author's purpose.
The skill must also be something a student can do independently (Kitsantas, Cheema & Ware 2011). If the student cannot complete the assignment without support, equity again becomes an issue (Ronning, 2011).
Another purpose for homework is to build responsibility. In this instance, students are solely responsible for completing and returning homework. Completing assignments, keeping track of materials, and managing one's time are all important life skills (Ramdass & Zimmerman, 2011). Again, with this as the purpose, the homework task must be something students can complete in a reasonable amount of time.
Once we address the primary concerns of assigning purposeful, equitable, and reasonable homework, we should next consider the age-old question — to grade or not to grade? Grading homework may mean that it is no longer equitable; because students with support at home are likely to score better. Grading homework also requires a considerable amount of teacher time. Not grading, however, may make it more challenging to ensure that students actually complete the homework.
It may be advantageous to get creative about grading. If one purpose, or the purpose of homework is to build responsibility, give students their homework for the week on Monday and have it due on Friday. If certain days are busier than others, with after-school sports, a part-time job, or other responsibilities, students will have the opportunity to plan ahead and complete the work at a 'convenient' time (Bembenutty, 2011).
Tools for the task
Accessibility to and affordability of technology are integral components regarding whether or not a student will be able to complete his/her homework. Activity in the classroom, for the most part, is no longer confined to chalk and talk. In many instances, classrooms are equipped with interactive white-boards which allow for a more meaningful and engaging discourse between the teacher and his/her students. However, the digital divide at home is more than a perception, it's the reality for many students and their families, not only in Jamaica but in many societies across the world.
In more affluent families each child owns his/her laptop or tablet. This undoubtedly gives the children of the upper class a distinct advantage in accessing the material necessary to conduct research and complete homework over the children of the working class.
It is the responsibility of governments everywhere to put policies in place to bridge the digital divide in order that every child has the opportunity of accessing an education and the tools to facilitate learning. This is most critical, especially since Jamaica's Internet penetration rate is just 54.7 per cent of the population. Against this background, the Government of Jamaica should be commended for its efforts to implement the $1.4-billion Tablets in Schools pilot project, which will commence at the start of the 2014/2015 academic year. Thirty-eight educational institutions across the island, effectively 24,000 students and 1,200 teachers, in the public education system will benefit from this one-year project.
The Government should now go a step further for the upcoming school year by placing teacher assistants in those schools, which clearly require additional support. Yes, teachers have been trained regarding the use of the tablets in the targeted schools. However, there is going to be the need for additional support staff if it is that we hope to maximise the benefits of infusing technology in the teaching and learning process.
As educators, let us ensure that any given homework or assignment is equitable and purpose-driven for the benefit of all students. We should be reminded that traditional homework is not the only one way to measure what has been taught. Let us thrive to think outside the box for 2014/2015 academic year.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org www.wayaine.blogspot.com