The term homework has taken on a new meaning with the closure of Swiss schools due to the coronavirus epidemic. However, when forced distance learning ends, some Swiss schools are sure to reopen the debate about the importance of homework.
This content was published on March 23, 2020 – 11:12 am
This was just before the health crisis began to take its toll. The newest of Switzerland’s educational institutions, a primary school in the east of the country, has decided to experiment with the end of homework. At Feldli-Schoren College near St. Gallen, pupils between the ages of eight and twelve participated in this one-year pilot project.
“Our main goal is equal opportunities. There is a gap between educationally disadvantaged families and others. Homework is a source of stress for students who cannot ask their parents for help or advice,” said the school director. Ralf Schäpper spoke in February in the columns of St. Galler TagblattExternal link after announcing that this program, originally planned for six months, would be extended.
A choice that should benefit everyone. “When students leave school after seven lessons, they shouldn’t have to sit in front of their desks at home again,” said Ralf Schäpper.
Instead, the school instituted four supervised instructional periods per week—twenty to thirty minutes each. According to Ralf Schäpper, the initial feedback from students, teachers and parents is “rather positive – although he admits that some parents prefer the old system, which allowed them to monitor their children’s work.
The Feldli-Schoren school is not unique. His counterpart from KriensExternal link near Lucerne and several others in the Bern region have also drawn a line for homework in recent years.
A controversial topic
The topic is still very controversial.External link. Professor of early childhood at the University of Teacher Education in St. Gallen, Bernhard HauserExternal link give reasons.
“Many children and parents quite like to avoid homework and the resulting tension,” he told swissinfo.ch. However, the results of international research indicate that homework contributes to ensuring the effectiveness of schools and a high contribution in terms of learning”.
“There are, of course, parents who complain about the lack of homework,” notes the researcher. This topic will not make everyone agree even at home”. Homework advocates see it as important for their children’s academic performance and their future careers.
In Switzerland, education is the responsibility of the cantons. However, many decisions are made at the local school level. In principle, homework is not compulsoryExternal link. In German-speaking Switzerland Lehrplan 21 (study planExternal link) for example only stipulates the conditions under which they cannot be distributed. During public holidays, e.g. No precision on the other hand about the need or not to provide the rest of the time.
There are guidelines for task durations. Canton of St. Gallen opted for about half an hour a week for the youngest elementary school students and two hours or more for 11-12 year olds. And even more so at the lower secondary school level (up to 15 years old), suggests Bernhard Hauser.
Specialist from St. Gallenu claims to be homework, assuring that it will contribute to the deepening of knowledge. “In the absence of homework throughout the school term, you end up with the equivalent of 700 hours of lost learning.”
Not to mention that homework helps children develop self-regulation. They learn to limit themselves to a task that they would not choose right away. Homework rather than football… This is an important life lesson, Judge Bernhard Hauser.
The researcher clarifies that canceling homework remains unusual in Switzerland. In the absence of official statistics, he estimates that the fight against homework is reborn every ten or twenty years, but in reality few schools go so far as to implement this approach. The canton of Schwyz had good experience with it from 1993 and then returned four years later under parental pressure.
Bernhard Hauser does not currently see any momentum in the direction of getting rid of homework, while several individual experiences are in the spotlight. Different experiences…
“Some schools do away with homework altogether, others keep it while bringing it back to school. This limits the negative effects. On the other hand, this happens at the expense of pupils who are able to work independently, since they are then under supervision at school”, notes Bernhard Hauser.
Across the language barrier
The French-speaking part of the country has its own study plan. This is claimed by the head of the Teachers’ Union, Samuel RohrbachExternal link Romands, the issue of homework is often topical in the region.
“Several cantons such as Neuchâtel and Jura have issued directives that specify in particular the maximum amount of time that should be devoted to homework per day. The will is that the students do not have to take on too much of a burden”, this representative of the coaches indicates by e-mail.
His association points to the issue of inequalities, but also the need to learn autonomy through the preparation of homework. It offers supervised lessons within schools to ensure the benefits of support for all students. Samuel Rohrbach specifies that the content of these sessions must be strictly limited to monitoring what was done in the classroom.
Support for parents?
Bernhard Hauser also worked on how to strengthen equal opportunities. It supports the daily homework support sessions offered at school – a reality in some schools, but only a few days a week. She also suggests that parents with disabilities get help through courses on how to best support their children.
This approach would allow students who can afford to do homework and others to get the support they need.
The Feldli-Schoren school, meanwhile, plans to evaluate its project before the summer holidays, according to its principal. So at this stage, no decision has been made whether to re-introduce homework for the next school year.
Official reports on homework habits are relatively rare. The OECDExternal link published in 2014 offers a vision of the reality of fifteen-year-old students. From the 2012 PISA study, the organization notes that the latter spent almost five hours a week on homework.
In this survey, Switzerland ranks eleventh (out of 38) with around four hours of homework per week. Students in Finland and Korea top the list with less than three hours, while Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia and Singapore have more than seven hours.
The same report found that the most advantaged students spend more time at the desk doing homework than their disadvantaged peers – across all countries covered by the PISA survey.
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