Is homework the key issue of concern?

opinion February 03, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

5,610 Viewed

Quality of teachers and class sizes should also be considered by ministry

Homework is a burning issue for Thai educators these days. Traditionally, Thai teachers would assign quite a substantial amount of homework for students, hoping that they would spend time constructively after school. 

But such a belief may not be the case anymore because the Education Ministry has recently signalled that teachers should reduce the amount of homework they give students.
The signal sparks a debate over the benefits of homework. What level of homework is considered too much and how should teachers design homework to suit their curriculum?
The Education Ministry wants schools to lessen homework and explains that there are various subjects that students have to study every day. So, if every teacher assigns homework for every subject that students do, the time spent doing homework would certainly be longer than a couple of hours. In addition, students these days have to spend more hours commuting to school due to traffic. Therefore, they may have less time to relax and play if they have to spend a couple of hours working on homework after school. 
Educators, meanwhile, reasoned that doing homework forces students to spend time constructively and helps prepare them for the next lesson. There are also many distractions for students. If they don’t have to spend time on homework, they can simply spend more time watching TV or playing computer games. 
Homework is not at all bad, for it also provides an opportunity for parents and children to discuss homework together after school. It can also teach students to be disciplined and responsible.
Arguments from both sides are reasonable. But a more serious question is whether the amount of homework is really the issue here. The fundamental concern about Thai education is not the amount of homework that students have to do but the quality of teaching and overall schooling.
Thai students’ ranking in academic achievement is declining compared to other countries in Asia. But the Education Ministry has so far tended to focus on peripheral issues such as tablet PCs and homework – ignoring the fundamental quality of teachers. There are more serious issues that affect students’ learning, such as the size of the classroom (number of pupils). 
In addition, as learning does not end in school, there are questions whether the schools and communities provided a favourable environment to inspire students to excel in what they are passionate about.
The amount of homework may not be an issue as much as whether the homework has been effective in encouraging students to learn. The Education Ministry should instead help educators design activities to make homework supplement the school curriculum and make students more enthusiastic to learn. 
For instance, homework can also apply pedagogy learning experience because these activities can be easier to do outside school. For instance, an assignment can encourage students to be observant of nature, by checking the changing of cloud patterns or the background of their communities.
In addition, instead of blaming homework loads for taking up many hours of students’ time, the Education Ministry or people in power should consider the other options to provide quality time for students. If the ministry wants students to spend less time on homework, they should also consider other alternatives that students can spend time on. For instance, they should set up a community library or a playground where children can spend time constructively.
As things stand now, many communities lack facilities to support children’s learning. Aside from a community library, many communities do not have playgrounds for their children. With less homework, many Thai students may end up spending more time on unproductive activities.
At any rate, the Education Ministry’s idea to integrate homework could also start the process of integrating the curriculum and different courses that students have to learn each day. The process should encourage teamwork experience from educators to students.
As learning is based on individual experience, the amount of homework may depend on the educators, the students and each school’s environment. The Education Ministry may not have to issue a uniform instruction on the amount of homework – but areas that matter more, such as the size limit of each class to ensure that students maintain proper attention on their lessons.