BY S. INDRAMALAR AND TAN SHIOW CHIN
WHEN both parents and students start suffering from homework-induced anxiety,
it is time to sound the alarm bells! Whether from making sure their children do their homework or trying to them with it,
many parents admit that they too feel the burden of excessive homework.
“At first, the problem was making sure my children complete all their
homework before school the next day. But as they grow older I find myself getting stressed when I cannot help them with their
work. Some of their Maths problems are beyond me.
“As for the Bahasa Malaysia passages, I have problems understanding
many of the words and phrases. How can Ihelp them?” laments parent Chan Yoke Leng.
Rita Mohan, another mother snowed
under with homework, says she spends at least three hours every night going through her daughters’ work.
Excessive homework often leaves no time for students to have
“When I am at work, I have to call home a few times to bug my children
to do their homework and to ask my maid to make sure they are not watching TV. I come home at about six and after dinner,
I sit with my kids and go through their work, helping them with questions they don’t understand.
“I do not have time for much else on week days. I don’t remember
things being like this when I was a student,” she says.
The root of the problem, says retired teacher Marian Tan, is the misconception
“I think teachers, parents and students have all forgotten what homework
is for. Homework should be a means for teachers to gauge whether or not their students understood the lesson. It should not
be punishment or a burden for students but a revision exercise.”
She says when she was a teacher in the 1950s and 1960s, the school head would
urge all her teachers to pay special attention to students’ homework because it would show which of them were struggling
and needed extra help. The teachers did not punish students who could not do their work but would instead show them more attention.
“Of course those who were too lazy to do the work would get punished
but these were only a few naughty ones who just needed some discipline,” Tan says.
Yen Wynn: Teachers overload us with homework.
While the teachers interviewed concurred that some form of homework is necessary
to reinforce what students have learnt, opinions vary on the amount of homework that should be given.
“It is impossible for students to go home without homework, especially
as they progress to upper primary school and have to study more subjects.
“But of course, the homework must be suitable and the amount must not
be a burden on the students. Most Chinese schools practise the system of writing down the day's homework on the blackboard
so that the teachers will know how much homework the students already have for the day,” says Chinese primary school
teacher Chen Ku Lin.
For subjects like Mathematics and Physics that involve application of formulae
or theories, there is no escaping homework as the only way to understand the subject is by doing questions.
Upper secondary Chinese school Maths teacher Cheang Mei says, “There
is no shortcut in Mathema- tics, students have to practice a variety of questions so that they won't panic during exams. Although
we do give a lot of homework, we also take into consideration the amount of homework the other teachers have already given
the students. Students can cope if they learn how to manage their time properly and not waste so much time on non-essential
things like playing games or chatting on the computer.”
Retired government school headmistress Sandy Gan however feels homework should
be doled out with discretion.
“Homework should not be given for homework's sake. Teachers actually
do not need to give much homework if they are sure their students understand the lessons well.”
Primary school English teacher S. Gita feels homework or project work for
non-examination subjects like Kajian Tempatan and Civics are a waste of time.
“So much time is used up running to and from the stationery shop to
buy materials and binding their scrapbooks when a stapler can do as well. They should really 'scrap' the scrapbooks,”
Adds Gan who is currently teaching in a private primary school: “Unfortunately,
parents equate the lack of homework with teachers not doing their job properly. This is especially so in private schools where
parents expect their children to come home with lots of homework as proof of their studies.”
Of the same view is Mathematics teacher Francis Teoh who says that though
teachers have been widely criticised for piling on homework, it is sometimes parents who ask for more work for their children!
“On the days when I don’t give homework, some parents will come
and complain. They want me to assign homework every day as a means of making sure the teachers do their job and their children
have work to do,” she says.
Tan feels that while it is important that parents take an interest in their
children’s schoolwork, their role should be that of coach and not major player.
“Some parents even do the homework for their child. What is the point
of this? Parents can coach their child, but they should allow their child to make mistakes too as the child may learn better
from his mistakes,” she adds.
Tan Eng Seng, a father of two college-going sons, feels that children seem
to “have things too easy” now.
“They should learn to chiak kor (a Hokkien term that literally
means “eat bitterness”) so that they have some experience in life. Decreasing the amount of homework or making
it too much fun will only en- courage students to be lazy,” he says.
Chinese school burden
While Chinese schools have a reputation for setting very high academic standards
and churning out top performing and hard working students, they are also notorious for the amount of work they pile on their
Says parent Michele: “My daughter really had a miserable time in school.
She is generally a good and hard-working student but unfortunately, she is a bit slow in Mandarin and Mathematics –
the two subjects most valued in Chinese schools.
“She would labour over her homework for these two subjects which seemed
very tough even for me. Unfortunately, I was not sensitive to what she was going through and kept on nagging her to do more
and to do better.
“This had a really negative effect on her and she started acting up.
She used to pretend to be sick and even make herself sick so she would not have to go to school. She would throw away her
exercise books and pretend that her bag was stolen and so on.
“It came to a point when she actually had a nervous breakdown when
she was in Form Four. It has been two years and she is still seeing a psychiatrist and is on medication. I don’t know
if the school work was the only cause for this but I am sure it contributed to it.”
Although this may seem an ex- treme case, students from Chinese schools confirm
that their workload is excessive.
Form Three Chinese school student Saw Yen Wynn feels his teachers “overload”
the students with homework, sometimes with “non-relevant” homework for non-examination subjects like Physical
and Health Edu- cation.
“I spend between one and three hours on homework daily and this makes
it difficult to find time for revision,” he says.
No time for self
Form Four student Tan Su Wei admits that sometimes, due to the huge workload,
students resort to copying homework assignments from each other.
“When we have too much homework, some of us do copy from one another
just so we can finish it off. I think it defeats the whole purpose of homework in the first place,” says the Chinese
Su Wei says she usually spends the whole afternoon completing her homework,
and despite only attending Bahasa Malaysia tuition and piano class, finds that she hardly has any time for herself.
Form Five student Saw Vee Mae who usually spends two to three hours on homework
a day agrees.
“Homework for certain subjects like Mathematics and Additional Mathematics
is helpful as we need to practise questions. However, English and Bahasa Malaysia homework is not really that helpful,”
Shares upper primary Bahasa Malaysia teacher Mak Looi Pin:
“Some parents have complained that their Year One and Two children
who are in the afternoon session sometimes stay up till midnight to finish their homework.”
She says she does not believe in giving too much homework as she feels students
should have more time for leisure activities like reading and pursuing hobbies.
Ashley Davids, a Year Six pupil at a national school says she used to en-
joy doing homework, but not anymore.
“Since I started Year Six, I have more homework than ever. We have
homework everyday. The most is for BM where I have to do about 80 questions each day. I also get homework for Mathematics
and other subjects, though not as much. I spend between three and five hours a day on homework.
“On top of this, I go for tuition classes twice a week and my tuition
teacher also gives me homework. I don’t enjoy doing homework anymore because it is so boring. But if we don’t
do our homework, the teacher will scold us in front of everyone and I guess that is worse,” she laments.