I had first published this post in 2010. I thought I should share it again, especially since there are many readers who might have missed it earlier, but also because it is very relevant. Like many other issues, sensible parents can take up and fight for the case against unreasonable homework which are meant more as a showcase for parents and teachers.
Summer holidays are over and the new school year has started, some in June, the others this month. And summer holidays mean homework – more for the parents than the students.
When I was growing up, this meant that you had a whole two months of doing nothing but playing, reading books (not the school books) and going on holidays to your grandparents’ or other places of interest.
That was because when the exams ended and you got promoted to the next class, the new session did not start before the holidays. That meant that you had a real holiday. Though the parents scolded you to study the books of the next class — which they would have borrowed from their friends’ children — lest you forget how to read and write, you could have a blast. Also this was done in such a mild manner that you could get away with saying, ‘Yes, ma/pa,’ and then roam the neighbourhood and do all the other things listed earlier and some, with not a care in the world. Mandatory visits to relatives in the native places apart, most middle-class families didn’t have all those fabulous holidays that they today.
Today though, the school session starts within a week or ten days of the annual exams and the NEW books for the next class are bought, covered and labeled, lessons are begun, and homework is given. Teachers take fiendish glee in setting loads of homework assignments for the kids during the holidays. Don’t they have kids, I wonder? While some are imaginative in setting the tasks, others just set tasks from the school text books. One of the favourite homeworks in lower classes is to copy a paragraph or page from the English or Hindi books, ostensibly to improve one’s handwriting. While this may be a sound of way of actually accomplishing that purpose if done diligently, how many kids do it? Or more importantly, how relevant is it today when computers have taken over everything?
I remember my younger son in his middle school, sitting on the penultimate day of the holidays and scribbling away late into the night wailing about inhuman teachers and his worn fingers! Hey, don’t look at me like that! Honestly, I reminded him a couple of times that he had homework to complete. But, not being one of those conscientious mothers who ensured their wards’ compliance with the school diktat, I followed my parents’ method. They had never bothered about our homework, assuming it to be our responsibility.
Today however, in addition to normal homework, they are asked prepare charts depicting all kinds of things from the plants in your garden, (how many flats have gardens, by the way?) to man’s space odyssey maybe, to science projects — making working models and stuff. The idea is to keep the children engaged in an educative way, right? Wrong!
My next point will tell you why:
Some schools hold an exhibition of these models and projects once school reopens and the best ones get selected for awards, naturally. The charts are exhibited in the classes and hallways and only those that are really eye-catching are selected, you understand.
So kids (read parents) get into the act, trying to outdo each other (?) while ensuring that the projects of their wards are selected for this great honour. I have seen many such projects being entirely done by them, while their kids are happily switching channel or some such thing! Given this, how educative do you think this whole exercise is?
As said earlier, I am one of the non-competitive, pathetic mothers who heartlessly make their kids do the projects by themselves. Now don’t give me those dirty looks. Don’t I buy them the chart paper and other stuff? So my younger son — in the first standard at that time — prepared a chart on creatures living in water, peppering the chart with his own childish and cute artwork and pasting pictures cut from magazines. He then wrote the heading in his five-year-old hand, a few letters askew, and proudly took the chart to present to his teacher.
He came home that day, cheeks streaked with dried tears and a crumpled chart paper in his hand. Alarmed, I asked what had happened and got out the facts: His teacher had selected some charts for putting up in the class, and his had not been one of them. His voice trembled, tears threatening to spill over afresh. I consoled him as best as I could. ‘But that’s ok, she can’t put up all of them, can she?’ I reasoned. I had guessed the facts. The pathetic mom, of course!
“No, she put them up because they were very beautiful. Why didn’t you make my chart for me? Then mine would have been put up too!” The tears started flowing now. There! It was out.
If this is the ‘education’ that is imparted by the myriad projects and homework given by the teachers, to what avail is it? Are we teaching kids to succeed, no matter what the means? And worse, schools are abetting the deed. They don’t care as long as their section in the exhibition has the best exhibits, projects and models. So who cares who made them?
The methods have been refined further these days. We have enterprising businessmen and women offering to do all these for a fee. And knowing that people are more than happy to ‘buy’ such projects and save themselves and their wards the trouble of making them, it goes without saying that they do thriving business. Talk of ‘professional’ homework!
And lastly, why can’t school sessions end in April (as they do now) after the completion of one academic year, instead of restarting a session and making lives miserable for the kids and their parents? If the exercise is meant in the cause of parent-child bonding, I can still understand it. But when all it does is create tension and complexes in kids, are they worth it?