Can we get Governments to ban Homework?

Seeing Teju and Laide his kid brother, aged 10 and six respectively, with their overloaded school bags and lunchboxes reminds me of my childhood days; when I struggled to maintain an oversized schoolbag for a term. My bags always underwent a routine sewing and occasional visits to the cobbler, to enable it withstand the pressures from the weighty books in it. Worse, I ended up looking like a mini tortoise.

Children still go through this ordeal today and it is neither helpful to their physical structure, nor helpful for their mental health. Besides, nothing stresses children and parents more than having to come home after a busy day at work or school to begin sifting through a bag full of books with homework.

A study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy, discovered that students in the early elementary school years are given significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases, nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

Parents reported that first-graders (children between ages six and seven) were spending 28 minutes on homework each night as against the recommended 10 minutes. This is not peculiar to American and Canadian kids alone, as this is a global challenge.

Recently, the Indian government ban schools from giving students homework and heavy books to prevent spinal damage. Teachers have been asked not to give first and second graders homework to prevent them from carrying heavy books home. In addition, weight guidelines were issued for school bags, depending on a child’s age, after studies showed heavy loads can affect soft/developing spines.

While the goal of sending a child to school is mental development amongst others, postural defects would do a great disservice to the overall wellbeing of the child. Carrying over-sized school bags full of heavy books can cause young children to develop serious spinal deformities; they develop forward head posture because they hinge forward at the hips to compensate for the heavy weight on their back.

A study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India discovered that children below 13 years might, in their later years, suffer from mild back pain which may develop into chronic pain and a hunchback. Of the 2,500 children and 1,000 parents surveyed, 88 percent of these pre-teen children carry more than 45 percent of their body weight on their backs.

Imagine if this was in Africa, especially the rural areas, where some children come home from school with loads of homework, after having trekked long distances to and from their schools, still have to fetch and carry water on the very same backs strained from the weight of their bags. These children may not show symptoms or experience pain immediately, but in the long term, they develop imbalances in the body which can affect the health of the nervous system.

Asides the health issues, these excessive homeworks are not helping as kids develop basic skills and it takes away much of their play time, which is also essential to their wellbeing. According to the 2017 World Development Report by the World Bank, 650 million children attend primary school, but a staggering 250 million are not even learning basic skills. Even after several years in school, children cannot read, write or do basic maths. So, what is the aim of these back-breaking homework?

Adaku, a barrister and a mother of three girls aged four and two who resides in Rivers States, noted that each day, her children come home with nothing less than five homework assignments which are spread across in textbooks, workbooks and exercise books. According to her, “most times, for an assignment on one subject, my four-year-old has to use three books for just one subject and she is given a minimum of five assignments daily, some of which are not age-appropriate. To ensure that all her books enter into the bag, I had to buy a big schoolbag more than my daughter’s size.”

Chinomso a Lagos resident on the other hand says that the bulk of her children’s assignments are given during the weekend. She noted that her kids spend about an hour doing their homeworks.

Arguably, homework improves grades and test results, helps reinforce learning as well as allow parents be involved with their children’s learning. But how much is too much?

Parents have expressed concerns that their pre-teen kids are overloaded with much more than is required. Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success stated that, “there is a heightened sense of stress for the whole family when the kid has too much homework. For the parents, it’s a real source of stress because some of them don’t even get to see their kids.”

In a survey of more than 27,000 parents, Varkey Foundation found out that one-quarter of parents worldwide spend seven or more hours a week helping their children with homework. Seeing these homework load, one cannot help but the role of curriculum in the educational system. The conversation about banning homework, especially for young children, appears to be growing in popularity, even among teachers themselves.

In 2017 Spanish parents called for a homework strike for their kids, many British teachers share this same  view, as well as the Indian government. Its high time African governments’ considered placing a ban on voluminous homework for elementary graders. After all, this system hasn’t worked, given that this mode of education has led to a continental churn of graduates which many employers say are unemployable.

Many homeworks are simply busy work; a chore rather than a positive and constructive experience, and maintaining the work-life balance is as difficult on the parents as it is on the children, whose school-life balance is a struggle, no thanks to homework.