Tuesday 22 October 2019

Sinead Moriarty: 'Why homework doesn't always make the grade for pupils'

A recent study found most parents struggle to help children as young as seven with their homework. Stock image: Getty
A recent study found most parents struggle to help children as young as seven with their homework. Stock image: Getty
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Are you capable of helping your child with their homework? A recent study found most parents struggle to help children as young as seven with their homework.

Of those who took part in the study, nearly a quarter said they feel "pressurised" when asked by their child to help with homework, while more than three-quarters admit they often use the internet to help them answer any questions they're struggling with.

It's a long time since most parents were in school and a lot has changed. I recently tried to help my 10-year-old with long division and ended up confusing her by using 'old-style' methods instead of the current ones. But should parents be helping their children with their homework at all? Is the child not better off trying to figure it out themselves?

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Are modern parents 'helicoptering' over homework? You only have to look at the results of project work to know that some parents are significantly more involved than others. Models of the Titanic that were supposed to be made with lollipop sticks and string are wheeled into the classroom displaying perfectly scaled-down replicas, made with the precision of architects and structural engineers.

At a recent parent-teacher meeting, I noticed one father with a colour-coded filing system for each subject and lists of questions for each teacher. I was scrawling notes on the back of a Tesco receipt I'd found crumpled in the bottom of my handbag. I don't believe either of us was a shining example of parenting - there must be a happy medium of parental involvement.

So, how much is too much involvement? Homework has always had three main purposes - to consolidate the learning that has already taken place in the classroom, to give the students an opportunity to enhance their independence, and to manage deadlines.

Teachers say they would prefer parents not to be involved in doing their child's homework at all. After all, how can a teacher see your child is struggling with fractions if their homework is perfect? It is up to the teacher to see where your child's weaknesses are and to help them get up to speed. That's what they trained for. Parents need to let them do their job.

Aisling White, principal psychologist at the HSE, believes homework can provide an opportunity for parents to be connected to their children, but she warns: "Parents should watch out not to step into the teacher role or to add pressure. Parents can support as a side-by-side observer and champion of their child."

But sometimes even getting your child to sit down and do their homework is the hardest part. They're tired, grumpy and have already spent a long day stuck at a desk. Imagine coming in from work and having someone tell you to sit down and start working again. Houses around the country are fraught every night as parents chase, cajole, order and bribe their children to "do your bloody homework".

Is part of the problem that Irish children get too much homework? Data compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on 15-year-old students showed Irish students have the second-highest amount of homework when compared to the rest of the world.

Irish school-goers do an average of 7.3 hours per week, well ahead of every other country in the study - Poland, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, US... apart from Italy. The Italians were the only country ahead of Ireland, with students there being set a hefty 8.7 hours a week.

Do we need homework at all? Many countries are now questioning the rationale behind setting homework to children.

Finland, the country everyone so often looks to as a beacon of educational reform, does not give any homework.

And it constantly hovers near the top of the educational leaderboard when it comes to producing bright, intelligent young people.

Aisling White believes it's the length of time it takes a child to do their homework that can cause problems. If it's taking longer than the teacher recommends, White suggests you stop your child working and send them in with a note.

Irish Independent

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