On April 27, Daily Monitor reported that secondary schools will start running half-day schedules to reduce the number of hours for which students are involved in academic work and increase the students’ involvement in non-academic learning experiences. Once implemented, this will be a step in the right direction.
Besides the number of hours for which the students are in class, however, is the problem of excessive home/ holiday work. Over the last two weeks, children have been returning home for their three-week holiday albeit with tons of holiday work. With a few exceptions, much of this work is a continuation of the in-class tests the children have been doing during the just-ended school term and/or an early, in principle premature, presentation of some of the tests the children are expected to be doing next term. The problem is that this holiday/homework culture—which was a rather limited and negligible aspect of the school system in the 1980s and 1990s—is fast becoming corrosive and pervasive, so parents should say no to it.
Increasingly, home/holiday work is overworking children with excessive academic work, making it hard for them to attain the holistic educational experience they need to develop into well-balanced adults who are lifelong learners. As an associate professor of education, I encounter many university students who are so uninterested in their academic work that they resent their coursework assignments as burdensome. Moreover, these students are also noticeably lacking in general knowledge, sporting prowess, human values, skills and real-life experiences. Of course, there are many reasons for these problems; but there is reason to believe that the home/holiday work culture is contributing to them.
Two reasons are primarily advanced for requiring children to carry schoolwork home: 1) to help children remain in touch with the things that they were studying while at school; and 2) to give parents/guardians an idea of what/how their children were doing at school. The problem is that instead of serving only these laudable goals, in many schools, home/holiday work is now being given in quantities that are making it hard for children to do anything other than schoolwork. For instance, many children living in Kampala are on the road to school by 6am and don’t make it back home until after 6pm. Yet they are required to do significantly demanding homework between the time they return home and the time they go to bed. And after doing this homework from Monday to Friday, they receive longer (weekend) versions of the work and even much longer (holiday) versions for the periods of time they are supposed to be ‘holiday-making’.
For children expecting “beginning of term examinations”, which usually start on the second day of the school term, much of the holiday is inevitably spent on reading for the examinations. Thus, home/holiday work is taking most (sometimes all) of the time that should be reserved for the non-academic learning experiences that should augment academic achievement such as sports, exploration, story-telling and work in the kitchen, laundry, garden, etc.
Consequently, many children learn to resent take-home assignments as burdensome – a dysfunctional attitude that we are now seeing in the universities – and achieve colourful grades but which are not complemented by indispensable non-academic skills, attitudes and experiences. This appears to provide part explanation for the irony of university graduates who are neither employable nor capable of using their knowledge and resources in their environment to create employment.
Some parents are indifferent about the ever-increasing volume of home/holiday work and sometimes ask for it because they see it as having potential for enhancing their children’s grades. However, these parents ought to realise that in many instances, this work is part of teaching malpractice that uses children to promote teachers’ ulterior entrepreneurial motives at the expense of promoting the children’s holistic development.
Increasingly, teachers are cashing in on their pupils by craftily blackmailing them into buying home/holiday work from them or from home/holiday work-producing companies that the teachers represent. And when this work is given in addition to the package that is officially provided by the schools, the volume of academic work the children have to handle becomes excessive.
As well, some schools, be they day or boarding, are giving extra home/holiday work and fixing extra lessons – at night, over the weekend and during holidays – with the view to get their pupils to post flowery grades that will boost the schools’ prestige and attract prospective pupils. Parents shouldn’t promote these motives. Instead, they should reject volumes of home/holiday work and extra lessons that make it hard for children to undergo non-academic learning experiences.
Mr Ssempebwa is an associate professor of Higher Education at the East African School of Higher Education Studies and Development, Makerere University. email@example.com