July 7th, 2011

They have their work cut out doing homework


All work and no play make students tired, bored and rebelious

CHILDREN these days have to put up with a lot: overbearing tiger parents, public exams and schoolyard politics.

Worst of all, they have to contend with something so loathsome that it is capable of eliciting tears and nightmares. 

No, we are not talking about teen singer Justin Bieber, but homework, the bane of schoolchildren around the globe.

Indeed, homework is an eight-letter word many students hope can be exorcised from the education system.

It is a spectre that has haunted schoolchildren the world over for as long as there have been schools.

Things are certainly no different in Malaysia, where homework is, once again, being pulled up for discussion.

The homework issue has bedevilled numerous education ministers. It is a seasonal issue, peaking, waning and picking up steam again when provoked, much like many other issues, such as heavy schoolbags and mentally ill teachers.

Two weeks ago, a weary student wrote in to the New Straits Times with his tale of woe. S.P. from Teluk Intan, Perak, complained of having too much homework, sometimes 10 in a day.

"When are we going to enjoy ourselves? Will there be any sweet memories of teenage life left for us? Please stop giving us too much homework. I hope we can have a 1Malaysia, 1Decision, No Homework."

Many others agree that homework isn't any good, and does little to improve students' academic abilities.

It can also be fatal. Homework has been blamed for some student suicides in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

The last time homework was scrutinised was in 2004, following a study by Australian researchers. The findings revealed that Malaysian students spent an average of 3.8 hours a day doing homework, higher than in many developed and developing countries.

The team was led by Michael Carr-Gregg and backed by the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals and the Australian Council of Education Research.

Educationists, however, have affirmed that homework is beneficial. It helps, and has a direct correlation to achievement in school.

So the issue is not whether there should be homework, but whether the right amount and type of homework is being given.

Are Malaysian students having too much of a good thing? How much is too much? Surveys have shown that our schoolchildren are essentially being inundated with schoolwork at home. Parents are also vocal in their disapproval.

There are those who report coming home from work at 11pm to bleary-eyed children who are still up attempting to complete their homework. Enough is enough, one mother fumed when she found her daughter crying over a stack of workbooks one day.

Another parent, who has a son in Year Four, notes: "Schools are pushing too hard and expecting too much from our kids. When my son comes home from school, I want him to indulge in other interests and distractions, but he has at least two hours of homework."

She asks why homework sometimes involved copying down word-for-word questions in workbooks.

For Science, "he is asked to figure out what happens to plants kept in jars and under the sunlight, or in the dark, and to draw conclusions from illustrations in workbooks".

The homework burden is apparently much heavier for students in Chinese vernacular schools, double that in national schools.

But teachers claim they are in a difficult position; if they don't give enough, they will be labelled ineffectual, or worse, lazy.

So, what should they do? A suggestion: refer to the guidelines the ministry came up with in a circular distributed to all schools on Dec 31, 2004, following the Australian survey.

The circular highlighted to teachers how they should prepare a balanced and effective homework assignment schedule. 

Most teachers are aware of the guidelines, which also propose the setting up of a mechanism to monitor the distribution of homework, but acknowledge that it has fallen by the wayside, and has been largely forgotten, not heeded or properly implemented.

For the experts, it is simple: homework should not take up more than two hours a day, or between 10 and 15 hours a week.

Daily homework should be only for core subjects such as Mathematics and Science. For other subjects, especially non-examination ones, it should be given only on a weekly basis.

Ultimately, teachers must be mindful that homework should make a student understand a subject better, and not merely a means to occupy his time at home.

The NST Home OPED 2011/07/06 By Chok Suat Ling

They have their work cut out doing homework

Education: A torture for teachers to work on Saturdays

 IT is sad to see teachers and students being used and manipulated for non-educational purposes.

Schools in Negri Sembilan are being forced to conduct a programme called "Majlis Pelancaran Bulan Kecergasan KPM 2011 JPNS" this Saturday from 7.30am to 12.30pm.

If this is an important programme, why was it made known to schools only on Tuesday?

Last Saturday, schools nationwide participated in the 1M1SM run, which entered the Malaysia Book of Records.

Now, another Saturday is being used for another non-education purpose. And it is not a replacement for any holiday. Why does the Education Department want to work teachers to the bone?

When can students have their rest and relaxation with their families?

No wonder we are experiencing an increasing number of suicide cases among students.

I am sure the Education Department is aware that Saturdays are public holidays. As a family man, I appeal to the education minister to spare the teachers and students of Negri Sembilan the torture of going to work this weekend.

Let them have their rest and family time so that they are more productive in the week ahead.

Source: The NST Education: A torture for teachers to work on Saturdays 2011/07/07 J.J., Seremban, Negri Sembilan

Innovation: No room for ideas to flourish


WITH reference to the report, "3 steps to be an innovative nation" (NST, July 6), it appears as though Malaysia's policy makers are missing the point.

The report states: "The first step involves creating an 'ecosystem' that could act as a catalyst for innovation... this could be achieved with the development of human capital that can think critically and creatively."

An ecosystem goes beyond human capital. Pumping money into the development of human capital without addressing needed reforms to the fundamental systems in which people work and innovate is a useless, money-wasting venture.

For example, our public universities are relied on to produce new ideas, innovations and technologies for the development of the nation.

The universities, however, are part of an archaic civil service system that forces academicians -- the main knowledge- and innovation-generating players -- to clock in as if they were working on assembly lines.

If Google had the same policy for its knowledge workers, it would have gone out of business a long time ago.

Our bureaucratic system forces academicians to spend much of their time filling in forms and attending meetings rather than producing knowledge.

I work with talented, capable and patriotic Malaysians who would love to work in an environment that allows them the freedom to think and innovate unfettered.

However, our universities reward obedience to superiors rather than good ideas.

If people are serious about unleashing the innovative potential of Malaysia's human capital, they should start by reforming the system in line with the kind of environment people need to be effective thinkers and producers.

2011/07/07 ABDUL LATEEF KRAUSS ABDULLAH, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Selangor

Source:  NST Home Letters to Editor July 7, 2011  Innovation :No room for ideas to flourish