The homework hassle

The homework hassle

Krish Kalra is new to the world of homework. This class II student at Shri Ram School, New Delhi, gets home assignments four times a week; Wednesdays are “no homework days". The assignments are easy and he is able to wrap them up with minimum fuss. Yet his mother Ritika Kalra, a marketing professional, thought it was important for her to be a part of a Home Work—Stress or Fun?workshop conducted at the India Habitat Centre (IHC), New Delhi, on 23 September.

“I wanted to understand the right approach to handling homework issues. I am a working mother and as my son moves on to higher classes, it will be important for both of us that he develops and uses a correct methodology to handling home assignments," says Ritika.

After complaints about the increased pressure on students owing to the implementation of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) programme, the Central Board of Secondary Education sent out a circular in early September, asking schools to cut back on home assignments and tests. The CCE scheme is a school-based evaluation (as opposed to being evalauted by an external body) of students that covers all aspects of a student’s development.

While less homework makes it to the wish list of most children, parents are undecided on the idea of a homework-free environment. Parents such as Ritika and Arundhati Jairam feel that some amount of home learning is important for children. “Homework is one way for me to know what my son is learning in class currently. We get lesson plans from the school, but assignments give parents a chance to understand where their child may need that little extra help," says Ritika.

Jairam, a homemaker, says it’s impractical for children not to have homework. “If they don’t come back with some amount of work, it becomes tough to keep them from wasting their time on computer games, social networking or just watching TV. Some amount of project work instills discipline and also helps us, the parents, to know where our child is faltering or doing well. I don’t want to find out everything in a PTA (parent-teacher association) meeting," says Jairam, mother of 12-year-old Khanak.

Abha Sehgal, principal of Sanskriti School, New Delhi, believes that some homework, especially in the senior classes, is important because it helps reinforce new concepts taught in class. “Having said that, I also believe homework should not only be about what has been taught in class. It should go beyond classroom education and should help a child apply all that she has learned in various subjects in one place."

Homework tends to become stressful when the assignments do not challenge a child to do something beyond what has already been taught in a classroom. “How can anyone motivate a child to do the same thing over and over again? It is up to the school and the teachers not to make homework a duplication of class work," says Gouri Dange, psychologist and the Lounge parenting columnist. “Also, I have noticed that children tend to complain more when parents lay unnecessary emphasis on performing well at academics suddenly. Homework has a place in your child’s life. It gives your child a chance to understand concepts better, but if your child is spending more than an hour daily at homework, then there is something wrong. Either genuinely there is too much work, or he or she is not managing their time well."

The interactive workshop at the IHC conducted by Yellowcat Theatre Co., a Delhi-based group of theatre professionals who use the medium for educational activities in schools across the National Capital Region (NCR), had one basic purpose: to get parents and children to communicate. “It is not up to us to decide whether children should be given homework or not. We wanted the workshop to be a place for people to realize that homework stress is less about rebellion and more about misplaced aspirations on the part of the parents and lack of communication between children and parents. In all my years as a practitioner of theatre in education, I can tell you that most issues between children and adults occur when both stop communicating properly," says Sukhesh Arora, founder of Yellowcat and one of the people who conducted the workshop.

He finds that though parents are much friendlier with their children nowadays, from classes VIII or IX onwards there is a sudden shift in the way parents react to academics. “Children find the transition tough to handle, get stressed and blame their ability to not perform well in academics on the most convenient scapegoat: too much homework and too little time to do it," says Arora.

While the aim of the workshop was not to provide quick “do this, do that" types of solutions, Arora hopes that it helped parents realize that “there are three basic issues with homework: First, children have too much to do in terms of extra-curricular activities. “You cannot expect a child to go for dance, tennis, theatre lessons, read good books and then also excel in academics." Second, most children (and parents) don’t understand how to prioritize their time. “If children are going to do many more things with their time than just play and be at school, then they must have the discipline to manage their daily workload and parents have to help them develop this discipline." Lastly, children are not self-motivated to complete homework. “If you are holding their hand every step of the way, they will never learn to take the responsibility for their own actions. Set up a schedule and then let them take charge."

“In most cases, you will find that homework assignments are left to the last minute. It then becomes an issue and a stress factor for both the child and the parent. Rarely do children get that much excessive work to finish all in one day," says Sehgal.

One way to reduce homework-related stress, according to Samiran Gupta, is to motivate your child to finish it in time. Gupta, who has two daughters, 13-year-old Treya and 17-year-old Chandrika, says this has helped his wife and him manage homework stress for the last 10 years and not let it rule their lives. “When our girls were young, we oversaw their work. But now we help only if there is a special project."

Both girls understand the importance of prioritizing and also of time management. “That is really the key. They have deadlines that they must adhere to and as parents we try and not interfere too much in the how and when of their deadlines. We only check if they are following their schedule."