Sums add up for summer homework

24th July 2009 at 01:00

When my Japanese friend Hiroshi visited Scotland with his family last August, his 10-year-old son, Kenji, brought his summer homework with him. It included a daily journal, 10 pages of sums, five pages of writing practice, a 96-page reading book, two poems to be rote-learned and a science assignment which involved designing a useful robot.

Even on holiday, young Japanese are expected to do an hour of homework each night. "It provides continuity of learning," Hiroshi, a high school teacher, explained. "And it helps to give children something meaningful to do during the long summer break."

Research by Japanese universities shows that pupils who do the most homework attain the highest test scores and win places at the best schools and universities. And most pupils seem happy to do their homework. "Doing some homework each night means I really look forward to play time", says Kenji.

Back in Japan, museums, science centres, parks and even department stores organise homework clubs and fairs to help pupils with their summer assignments. Some of Kenji's friends even spend part of the summer at special homework camps.

There is little debate in Japan about setting homework for the holidays. Summer homework, it is accepted, raises attainment levels and reduces boredom and petty youth crime.

Some summer homework assignments for Scottish pupils, it has been suggested, might not be a bad idea. Technology is available to make these activities easier for schools to organise. Details of assignments can be posted on the school website with links to useful lessons and explanations on YouTube, or whatever. There is even help from databases which claim to be able to answer any coursework question pupils or parents may have.

There is no doubt that some homework can help raise levels of academic attainment, but too much would probably be counterproductive. Summer, after all, is for outdoor games and the development of friendships.

As I write this piece in the garden, I can see my seven-year-old and her friends preparing water balloons to ambush the annoying boy who had soaked them with his "water blaster" when they were returning from the Brownies. The girls were working collaboratively, planning and preparing better than any homework assignment could get them to do. A successful outcome would provide some restorative justice and rank high in their personal records of achievement.

In fact, their play activities could, just about, meet all four capacities of the new curriculum including effective contributions, successful learning and even responsible citizenship.

So as far as summer homework is concerned, I am happy to sit on the fence. I merely observe and report what our Japanese friends are doing. I refrain from offering concrete suggestions. I wouldn't, after all, want to be in any way responsible for the introduction of summer homework - not with all those water balloons around.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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