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Homework in UAE schools: To ban or not to ban?
You either love it or hate it. But after one secondary school recently became the first in the UK to ban the practice, the story has sparked a lot of debate in the education sector
Is homework really necessary? Are students getting too much? You name it and nearly every question regarding the necessity - or non-necessity - of homework has been raised following this controversial move.
Although headlines were every bit as sensational as the news itself, all you had to do was dig a little deeper to realise that homework isn't actually banned at the school, it has just been given a newer approach.
"Out-of-school-hours learning will still be encouraged through the school's website with prizes offered to the most dedicated students," one report said.
But could a full ban on homework ever become a reality in the UAE? According to a Khaleej Times poll, 80 per cent of the 100 readers polled were in favour of banning it.
Of the 100 respondents, 81 per cent said their child receives homework three to five times a week. And the majority, 35 per cent, said their child spent between 30 to 60 minutes a night on homework.
How effective is homework?
In 2014/2015, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (developers of the international PISA test), carried out a report on homework around the world.
It found that 15-year-olds worldwide spend an average of five hours per week doing homework. Surprisingly, countries like Finland and Singapore spent less (two to three hours per week) but still had high PISA rankings.
Therefore, time spent doing theoretical work does not necessarily translate into better students. It is the approach which matters most.
Fatma Belrehif, executive director of Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said individual schools are policy makers when it comes to homework.
"Schools are responsible for developing or amending policies and practices regarding homework. When doing so, they generally take into consideration their educational aims, their rationale for giving homework, recent educational and technological research, parents' and students' opinions and aspirations, and the age group of students they are working with."
Belrehif's comments positively showcase the fact that schools are urged to move with the times when it comes to embracing new work approaches.
Samantha Steed, principal at Ranches Primary School (RPS), said parents who choose RPS do so with the knowledge that "we have high academic expectations but take a more modern approach to homework". "RPS has a home learning policy, however, it is open-ended and optional."
She said parents support the policy and welcome the freedom from deadlines and screen time.
For Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School (DBS), a full ban on homework is simply not justifiable. But a modernised approach to homework is. "Both parents and students get frustrated when homework is given that has no obvious educational value," he said.
Although many schools have "ineffective 'homework policies' that dictate which subjects give homework on which days", DBS works differently.
"Rather than not give homework, we operate on practical guidelines. These guidelines ensure that homework is always linked to in-school learning - an independent extension work to embed learning."
For Fulton, a ban on gratuitous homework is what is needed.
Matthew Burfield, principal and CEO of GEMS Founders School, agrees. "Traditional homework does not exist in our school. We promote home learning."
When it comes to education, Burfield said the biggest conflict area for children and parents is homework.
"The parent, teacher and child are all part of the home learning equation. We make our tasks more practically-focused so as to increase engagement and reduce conflict."
Like Fulton, Ashok Kumar, CEO of Indian High School, said a "blanket ban on homework forces a lot of rigidity into the system".
"There are always pros and cons of everything, but I think a blanket ban would be unjustified," he said.
At IHS, homework is given as a means to "reinforce concepts".
"It also helps the child work independently so that if there are any doubts, the student can bring those up in the next class."
In the 1999 White Paper, 'Excellence in Schools', one quote read: "Homework is not an optional extra, but an essential part of a good education."
While this is true in the most part, the jury in Dubai is out. Homework is dead, but home learning is well and truly alive and kicking.
Are you for or against homework ban? Or just undecided?
Fawzi Bfd, teacher, Institute of Applied Technology
"I agree that more time should be spent by the teacher planning a lesson than marking and assigning homework but we are using interactive websites for homework and class work which can be marked automatically. I tried to minimise homework for students before but it turned out that parents didn't get the idea and always reported to me during meetings that I don't give their kids any work to complete at home."
Sara Hogan, teacher
"I totally agree with banning homework. I'm a primary school teacher and the days are so long here. 8am to 3pm is plenty of time for student learning. I teach 5- and 6-year-olds and I'd prefer them to spend time playing with friends and family. I don't think homework is really needed until they are at least 11. Parents should practise life skills and manners at home with their children and allow teachers to cover the academic side."
Anna Dillon, assistant professor, Zayed University
"I've always disagreed with homework for the sake of it. Our children spend enough time in school and as families, it's our responsibility to support learning in creative, interactive ways that don't need worksheets to be completed. At my children's school (Brighton College Abu Dhabi) in pre-prep the only regular homework that's given is reading, and it's done in a really easygoing way."
Mumtaz Ahmad, teacher, Apple International School
"It's good for teachers to spend more time planning lessons at least a week ahead but I do not agree that homework should be banned. Some work has to be compiled at home by the student."
Katie Rees, private tutor
"Being a tutor, I think they assign too much homework, particularly in math. My kids need reinforcement. Some children cannot grasp the concept without homework, particularly as their teacher moves on so quickly and so cannot answer all the kids' questions as in depth."
ON THE FENCE
John Schrodinger, teacher
"I think this ban is an interesting move. I agree with it to a certain extent. For a lot of homework exercises to be useful, they have to be marked and then specific feedback given. It then needs to be seen by the pupil and the teacher needs to see that the pupil is making progress. This takes a lot of time, which could be better spent planning lessons."
Zeina Hamad, teacher
"I'm a teacher and a mom. Homework can become overwhelming for students and parents. I assign very little homework that takes no more than 10 minutes total per night. Why? Not to ensure the student still studies and is learning when they go home, but to teach them responsibility. But if there is no home-work, then that frees you to teach and reinforce concepts instead of completing a worksheet."
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