- What is the question we are thinking about?
One Sunday evening, as I was browsing through the local newspaper, a story caught my eye. No more homework for learners in some schools, the headline shouted from the page. As a caregiver to a young child, this headline got me thinking and googling. I found many blog posts and newspaper articles from all over the world that claimed homework was bad for children’s happiness/stress levels/sleep patterns. Each article claimed that “recent research has found”, even for when the claims were contradictory. I felt overwhelmed and unsure of what to believe when I asked myself, What is the impact of homework on children’s wellbeing?
- Why is this an important topic for citizens?
In a South African context, action against homework is already being taken in our schools. When it comes to education, we are told again and again how important it is for the future of our children (Vatterott, 2009, Galloway, Conner and Pope, 2013). The way we educate our children relates not only to the best we can afford as caregivers, but also our values as a family. We want the best for our children and we want our children to the best for their country. Their education is central to shaping them into the people they will be in the future. Since homework is an integral part of many schools’ current way of operating, it is essential to know what the evidence says about how homework impacts our children’s development.
- What credible and appropriate evidence did we find, and what did it say?
Looking for evidence syntheses (check out our first blog in this series to understand why we avoid the danger of a single story), we found two evidence summaries that looked at reviews or meta-analyses on the impact of homework for primary or secondary school children on children’s academic achievement (see box ADD below for how we found this evidence). Both summaries are publicly available on the Education Endowment Fund’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit interface. These summaries focused on how homework impacted children’s academic achievement; they did not share findings on how children’s wellbeing was affected by homework. We think the findings are appropriate because the academic achievement of learners is one predictor of their future wellbeing.
Common findings relating to the effect of homework for primary and secondary learners are:
- Quality is more important than quantity. Detailed and timely feedback and how engaged caregivers are in the process of doing homework effects whether homework has a positive impact on learners’ academic achievement.
- Shorter-term rather than routine. Homework given for specific shorter-term projects is more effective at enhancing academic achievement than homework given routinely.
- Make the objective clear. Learners should know what the purpose of the homework is, and any homework given should be closely linked to what is being taught during the school day.
For primary school learners:
- No much to say. There is weak evidence to suggest that homework is effective for academic achievement at a primary school level.
For secondary school learners:
- Homework is not punishment. Caregivers are cautioned to avoid using homework as reprimand for poor performance for secondary learners.
- Use variety. Homework given at the secondary school level should include a variety of tasks with different levels of challenge.
- So, what does this all mean in the South African and/or African context?
Whilst the evidence we found related to schools in developed nations, mainly Britain and the US, there are important differences and similarities between these contexts to take note of.
Similarities: The evidence presented here is applicable to schools in which homework policies are already taking place.
Differences: Schools in South Africa – and Africa more broadly – vary in standard because of constrained resources, teaching capacity, and infrastructure (Rakabe, 2014). This constraint extends to beyond the school day: resources to undertake homework may also differ. For example, characteristic of many households in South Africa are long commutes to school, malnutrition that might affect concentration, infrastructure challenges such as lack of electricity to complete homework by, and lack of support to complete homework in the case of child-headed households. These and other factors make for a vastly different context to the one the evidence was gathered from.
- What are we as citizens to do next?
No matter which side of the homework debate you fall on, as caregivers we are united by a single value: we do what we believe is best for our children’s future. Whether I believe that the children in my care should be doing homework or not, there are definitely five things that evidence shows I can do to get the most out of the impact of homework on children’s academic achievement.
Question, encourage, and support our schools.
- Ask our schools what they use to base their homework philosophies on.
- Find out how our schools structure homework, how teachers provide feedback on homework, and how homework is related to what is taught in the classroom.
- Share the results of evidence we know to be reliable and representative of the whole story – instead of one part of it – with our schools.
Involve ourselves in the education of our children
- Understand the purpose of the homework your child has been given, and share with your children what the purpose is.
- Engage with and participate in the homework lives of our children by sharing our feedback on the tasks they are completing as part of their homework.
- How and where did we search, together with a confidence statement about what we found?
In looking for reliable appropriate evidence, we searched the Campbell Collaboration’s working group of systematic reviews on education and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation’s (3ie) education collection of evidence syntheses on their website, where we found no evidence syntheses on our exact topic.
We then revised our question to look at the impact of homework on children’s level of academic achievement. With this revised question, we reviewed the Education Endowment Fund’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit interface and found two summaries of the impact of homework on children’s academic achievement.
Why evidence synthesis?
If you would like to engage with additional resources on this topic, check out:
- This talk by the Education Endowment Fund on how the evidence does not really support the use of homework at the primary level.
- This systematic review (and brief) by the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation on the impact of education programmes in lower- and middle-income countries on learner’s school enrolment, attendance, completion and learning.
References cited in this article
Vatterott, C. (2009). Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs. http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Rethinking-Homework.aspx%20%5bAccessed [Accessed June 7, 2018]
Galloway, M., Conner, J., & Pope, D. (2013). Non-academic Effects of Homework in Privileged, High-Performing High Schools. Journal of Experimental Education, 81(4), 490-510. doi:10.1080/00220973.2012.745469
Rakabe, E. (2014). Equitable Resourcing of Schools for Better Outcomes (Vol. 16). Technical Report: Submission for the Division of Revenue 2015.