Why homework has merit and can be a force for good

The brouhaha about the need to abolish school homework, as if it was a recently invented form of cruelty to children, needs perspective and reasoned discussion

I come, not to bury homework, but to praise it.

Recent discussions about cancelling homework for good seem to be focused almost entirely on the needs of time-poor parents, rather than the benefits to students.

In spite of the protestations that schoolwork – set by teachers to complement classroom learning – must be abolished with immediate effect, the facts are that there are myriad benefits accruing to your child from homework that we should not lose sight of.

Painting homework as the enemy of busy children misses the bigger and more nuanced picture. The idea that it should be cancelled outright seems like a knee-jerk reaction to what amounts to a modern family time-management issue. And it must be noted that generations of children have survived the imposition of homework, and many have even thrived.


This line of thinking also misses the whole purpose of home-based assignments.

Homework is an important bridge between school and the home. It allows parents to be part of a child’s educational journey and to contribute in a meaningful way. It keeps the channels of communication about what happens in school open, an important consideration.

To suggest that a broad array of extracurricular activities should take precedence entirely over home-based school work is misguided at best. It also sidesteps the fact that many children in homes where money is too tight to mention will be the biggest losers here, as they won’t be spending their time being ferried from one draughty hall to another for ballet or tai chi lessons.

Comparing attending school to going to work as an adult misses the point by a country mile, and amounts to an erroneous justification for such a move. Education is a lifelong journey. If you demonise homework you are giving a child the message that schoolwork/learning is a negative thing. Learning is a wonderful thing. That’s a really worthwhile message to pass on to your children.

However, that is not to say that there is, or at least should be, an optimum amount of work set by a teacher that is age-dependent. If you haven’t 20-30 minutes to spare with your smallie, then the issue is a lifestyle one set up by you, rather than the school one. I am perplexed by parents who believe that their child’s formal education is solely the remit of the school. There is only so much one teacher with up to 30 pupils in a class can do. Issues with a child’s ability to learn will likely be picked up faster on a one-to-one basis at home rather than in a busy classroom.

Conversely, if you have a very fast learner, you can encourage them to do more to ensure they don’t get bored and lose interest.

Additionally, homework tasks can allow the parent to expand the content to include other ideas and different content. Homework also teaches your child the importance of beginning and finishing a task, a worthwhile life skill.

As a parent I have enjoyed being part of my child’s learning journey. I have fond memories of a little head at the kitchen table calling out “Mum” followed by questions about the meaning or spelling of a word. “Why is the sky blue” stands out vividly as a taxing question that we both had fun establishing the facts for, compliments of Mr Google.

Learning can be fun and that is an important message for parents to give their children. Parents are key educators too. The importance of a visit to the local library and the luxury of time to read a book is arguably more beneficial to a child than contorting their fingers around the neck of a violin. Time to stop, to think and just to be is underrated in modern life, where being busy all the time is considered desirable.

That being said, I think some reworking of homework is overdue. The tedium of completing workbooks being a case in point. Teachers should be encouraged to set stimulating and more creative tasks as homework also. The very idea of written wellbeing homework is faintly ridiculous. It doesn’t take a genius to say “Homework this evening is to dance for 15 minutes to your favourite music.”

The proliferation of after-school activities is also an undoubted indicator of affluence. You would need to ask why one fairly small child needs to attend ballet, violin, swimming, piano, GAA, chess, martial arts, drama, art, French and the rest. Bragging rights for parents shouldn’t form part of the equation, but they often do.

If homework is abolished in primary schools, as sure as night follows day, it will also be dropped at second level too. Given that the Irish examination system is a written one – with many subjects based on essay-style answers – the inability to write well and succinctly will be an impediment to success. Practice does make perfect.

Traditionally, teachers work fewer hours to compensate for time spent correcting homework. There is nothing to stop any parent dropping a note to the teacher to say that no homework was completed last night as we were otherwise engaged.

The bottom line here is that if extracurricular activities are preventing your child from doing homework, the issue is perhaps the out-of-school schedule rather than the homework.