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  • Nov 28, 2014
  • Updated: 7:25am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 12:22pm

Homework today is no child's play

Kelly Yang says if our children's mountain of homework does not improve test scores, as one study shows, then what's the point?

I recently asked a roomful of eight-year-olds what time they go to bed. I was shocked when some said 10pm or even later. Why? Homework.

Studies show that the amount of homework given to students in the West has risen considerably over the past three decades. A University of Michigan study found students spent an average of 2 hours 38 minutes per week on homework in 1981; by 2007, the figure had risen to 6 hours 48 minutes for those in grades nine to 12, according to the National Centre for Education Statistics.

In Hong Kong, that doesn't seem like a lot. Most students I've known average much more. That could be because they are learning both English and Chinese. These, plus maths, history and science, add up to hours of revision, dictation and projects.

Any parent who has ever watched a child spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon cooped up inside, struggling to finish homework when they could be out riding their bike, can tell you just how much homework affects family life. Sure, there are some self-motivated children with excellent time-management skills who can do all their homework by themselves quickly and efficiently. But there are countless others, like my kids, who need constant reminding, persuading, and sometimes shrieking at, before it finally all gets done.

These days, homework is no longer a child's sole responsibility. The instructions on assignments now seem written for the parent. It's no wonder so many mothers sit with their child for hours after school poring over assignments until both are exhausted and near tears.

As it turns out, homework may not even be beneficial. A study in the Economics of Education Review suggests that homework in science, English and history actually has "little to no impact" on test scores. There is, however, a positive correlation for maths homework. If homework, for the most part, doesn't help improve test scores, why bother?

When I asked the eight-year-olds if they liked doing homework, unsurprisingly, everyone shook their head. However, they were also quick to say that, "You get used to it. And if you do it right and you do it quickly, it's not so bad." At eight, they had already developed their own coping mechanisms for a life involving mountains of paperwork.

Maybe that's the real point of homework. Maybe its just a way to get our children prepared for office life, where, for every fascinating project, there are countless other tedious tasks that have to be done.

One college admissions officer at a top US university told me recently: "One thing we can always be sure of when we accept kids from Hong Kong or China is that they're going to work hard. You have to hand it to these kids - they really know how to roll up their sleeves and get to work."

You also have to hand it to their mums, dads, grandparents, tutors, helpers and countless other support people in the background whose lives have been completely transformed - not always for the better - by this never-ending heap of homework.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.edu.hk


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The culprit is a syllabus too advanced and too heavy. Catching up becomes the norm. It takes courageous parents to deviate.
I shunned my own elite mid-level school for my P1 son and put him in a no name on Tin Hau Temple Road for 4 reasons
- save 2 hours ride
- that school is surround by trees 4-way
- its light homework
- I could walk him to school every morning
Bedtime was 9pm. Unfinished homework? I did them all. He never had a minute of tutorial in his life.
When Wah Yan took him in P4 we moved next door. He got 81 in arithmatic. I was ecstatic. The teacher was furious. The 2nd lowest was 86. Pressure shield needed.
He got "0" sometimes. The teacher asked me why in front of other parents. I challenged her the merit for a 10 year old to study the Provisional Legislative Council.
The Education Bureau labeled him as category B i.e. he would learn better in Form one in a Chinese medium school. But he was reading Nancy Drew while his peers were busy in spelling and fill-in-the-blanks. We moved to California. He needed no ESL. .
I made sure he never worked more than an hour on homework until grade 12.
Since he was one year old, I would read my racing form and my wife magazines in front of him. We laid children books every where at home and never needed to put one in his hands. Children immitate parents. When a child has a good reading habit, university will be a walk in the park. HK educators just don't get it.
6 HOURS 48 MINUTES?! More like 16 hours...
It should be about raising and nurturing well rounded, well balanced, positive, happy and fulfilled human beings. These are things which cannot be measured in exam results.
Under such exam-oriented education system, it's commonplace that pupils are burdened with crushing workload. With their parents and schools pushing them to study hard, they will end up becoming a exam machine. For instance, most secondary school students attend supplementary classes in tutor schools after a day of hectic work with the aim of just tackling all the exam questions "effectively and efficiently". Nevertheless, i don't think it is a kind of learning. What they are doing is just merely "doing". Cram for answers of the past papers. Level 5** is their ultimate goal in their 12 years learning life.
Well said cactus
But can’t dismiss practical realities
of competition for comparative disadvantages
Good and thoughtful kids won’t be happy
if bad and stupid kids get better chances
simply because they are narrow-minded and focused
Exams are a “necessary feature” of all institutionalized education
The parents’ responsibility is to prepare and equip their children
How to do that isn’t a simple issue
The education game may not be too different from racings in Happy Valley
Why you talk in verse, bro?
Easier for old man to write
and read in truncated bits
and the format resembles
Chinese my first language
People can read newspaper’s columns
faster than books’ page-wide layout
Also-rans can’t conceive anything better than pedestrian ideals
The astute and bold design and pursue their own purposes
My children leant to look far beyond local “elite” schools
which have their share of socially/academically inept graduates
While at “elitist” schools, they’re preoccupied with co-curricular activities
as if they’re preparing to join tv’s artists’ training program
anxious to acquire all “18 courses” required of a Shaolin disciple
Never attended any exam preparation tutorial
and without exactly outstanding SC results
they got admission to top-notched universities
Good degrees and work experiences secured them positions
in top multinational corporations and top policy-making institution
Jim Rogers is right to note that
really bright and purposeful young adults
won’t need college for good education and successful career
I certainly agree HK students have too much homework. THere is an over-emphasis on books, and not enough emphasis on balance. That said, I don't think test scores alone is an adequate metric for the effectiveness of homework. As that US college administrator suggests, homework teaches time management skills, and teaches kids how to learn. Let's face it: the stuff kids learn in lower grades is fairly useless stuff anyway; they're just there to acquire the necessary study habits so that they can learn the important stuff as they get older. In the end, as with most things in life, I think moderation is the key.
Leaving your child without a childhood by immersing them in heaps of useless, unproductive learning, most of which they will forget once they pass the exam, is as cruel as it can be.
This is precisely the reason why people in Hong Kong don't know how to enjoy their life, nor want to enjoy it.
I believe children would be better off if they were taken away from parents who kill their chance of a happy life, as well as those who engage in "constant reminding, persuading, and sometimes shrieking at".
Yes, poisonous Western ideas.


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