Homework debate requires a reality check

If homework is a bridge between school and home, it must be lighter, narrower and more flexible, says NSW Parents Council (NSWPC) CEO, Noel Hadjmichael.

Hadjmichael says that times have changed since the days when students undertaking homework was an automatic expectation of parents, and attributes part of the shift to the emergence of social media and mobile devices as ‘distracting’ influences.

“The bridge that we built 10 years ago with higher expectations of more homework, more accountability and reporting was perhaps built with the wrong material,” Hadjmichael told The Educator.

“Maybe it was built too wide and we're driving too much data, pressure and information over it. Perhaps it should be narrower, lighter and more flexible - and maybe some people should not walk over the bridge at all.”

Hadjmichael said that the NSWPC’s position on homework may surprise some.

“We’re actually not in favour of homework for homework’s sake, however we are in favour of schools individually setting the homework level at a level where parents and the school feel as appropriate," Hadjmichael explained.

"If the school allows students to opt out, we're very committed to the decision being left with the parents and not just the child saying 'I'm not going to do it' or 'I can't do it' or 'it's all too much'.

"It's got to be a considered decision."

Hadjmichael pointed to the pressures that homework can place on parents who are often expected to help problem-solve their child’s academic papers late at night after a long day at work. 

"The last thing you want is for a mum and dad at nine o'clock at night to get grumpy at a kid and be doing their homework for them," Hadjmichael said.

"We believe that homework is a great thing for primary schoolers if it's at the right level and it builds confidence and a good routine."

The NSWPC, through the Australian Parents Council (APC), ran a project 10 years ago based on research suggesting that homework was important and that parents should be involved. However, Hadjmichael says the world has now changed.

"What's happened in the last 10 years is that the world has moved on and primary school kids are now much more distracted with social media and other commitments. They've too many devices at their fingertips and it's all getting too much for them.

"The 10 year-old a decade ago is very different to the 10 year-old of 2015".

Hadjmichael concluded by citing a Telegraph.co.uk report which found that 5% of UK parents exclusively did their kids homework; however, one in five had homework-related arguments with their child three times a month.

“Is it really helping to be arguing?” Hadjmichael asked.