Guest column: The right dosage Why homework is like medicine

There's a lot being said against the system of homework that is currently in vogue.

The Madras High Court order prohibiting the assignment of homework to CBSE students of classes I and II has sparked off a debate. Justice N. Kirubakaran said in his May 29 directive that no school in the country, irrespective of the board to which it is affiliated, should prescribe homework for Class I and II students and also directed the Centre to formulate a policy in line with the Children School Bags (Limitation on Weight) Bill, 2006. Explaining his order, the judge said that “children are neither weightlifters nor school bag load containers.”

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (England) too has observed that "the issue of homework can damage parents and children's relationships when trying to get it all done, and ends in tears all round." The concept has multifarious dimensions and can be broadly categorised into ‘ideal’ and ‘commercial. Commercially, the concept benefits schools in terms of selling subject specific homework manuals and books, monetizing of lessons and so on. Ideally, it should not be all about simply overloading the students with homework, but also allowing them to learn to access information rather than rote memorising knowledge from books.

There’s a lot being said against the system of homework that is currently in vogue. A study titled “non-academic effects of homework in privileged, high performing high schools ” says that current homework practices "sustain students' advantage in competitive climates yet hinder learning, full engagement, and well-being." It further observes that “there's been a pushback in recent years from parents, who say their kids' time is monopolised by homework.”

Also, Alfie Kohn in his book “Homework Myths” argues for banning homework on the ground that it “may be the greatest extinguisher of curiosity ever invented." While balancing the argument, Harris Cooper, a professor at Duke University, says homework is like medicine. If it is too little, it does nothing and if it too much, it can kill you.

UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), too underlines that children have a right to rest and engaging in leisure activities. These global guidelines need to be respected and adhered to. But when in China, the government proposed a ban on written homework, interestingly, teachers and parents spoke out against it.

In India, however, the Union ministry of human resource development (HRD) responded positively to the Madras High Court’s directive and proposed a No-Homework Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament in compliance with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. While the Union government can play a predominant role in strict implementation of the Madras High Court’s directive, it is none other than the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), that has filed a writ petition before it challenging the banning of homework for Class I and II students of all schools.

We also need to reckon with the approach of Indian parents to homework and the powerful lobbying by private educational institutions, whose heads are also heads of ministries in some states.

It is sad to see the issue still being debated, when noted author, R K Narayan had come down heavily upon weighty schoolbags in the Rajya Sabha as early as the Eighties. Unfortunately, three –and- a- half decades later the matter remains unresolved.

(The author is a public policy expert and an Assistant Professor, School of Business Studies and Social Sciences, Christ Deemed-to-be University, Bannerghatta campus)

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