Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

UAE's no-homework policy could benefit girls over boys, say education experts

Schools should collect data, record the performance of pupils and measure the impact of a no homework policy

The Ministry of Education has scrapped homework at 256 public schools. Getty
The Ministry of Education has scrapped homework at 256 public schools. Getty

A ministry decision to scrap homework at hundreds of public schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi could benefit girls over boys, an education expert said.

Boys typically lag behind girls across UAE schools and homework can sometimes help them catch up at home, said Dr Natasha Ridge, head of research at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research.

"In the UAE, we have a problem with male attainment and achievement and there is a big gender gap favouring girls," she said.

An analysis of the Programme for International Student Assessment figures, compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year, showed a gap in the academic achievements of 15-year-old girls and boys.

Homework prepares children to be lifelong learners, that is why schools have held fast to it

Fiona McKenzie

The study found the UAE had the second largest gap in reading abilities between the genders, with girls outperforming boys by 57 points on the scoring matrix used by Pisa.

“The question is not if pupils are doing homework, but how are schools going to help pupils who are lagging behind or are unable to keep up with the pace?” said Dr Ridge.

"It is fine not to have homework as schools are ensuring that all the pupils in the class can access and complete the material that needs to be covered."

This week, the Ministry of Education announced that pupils would no longer be assigned homework at 256 schools across the country, from next Sunday. The decision drew mixed reviews from parents.

Some championed the call, saying it would give their children more time to pursue hobbies while others worried pupils would not use that time effectively.

Little to no homework has been touted globally as countries like Finland – which has the best education system of the world - give their pupils less than three hours-worth of homework per week.

"A no-homework policy benefits pupils who are already disciplined. But, how do you help the pupil who is not able to cover the material in the time of the lesson?" said Dr Ridge.

Last year, three private school operators in the emirate, Arcadia Education, Taaleem and Ambassador Education, successfully dropped homework to allow children more time to play, and enjoy with their families.

On Tuesday, the ministry also said some lessons would be merged with no break, making Arabic, English, mathematics, science, and design and technology classes 90 minutes each.

"The authorities have abolished breaks as well, so I would question the combined impact of that, especially on boys," said Dr Ridge.

"With fewer breaks, fewer chances to move around, and no work to keep pupils engaged after school, I would hypothesise that perhaps this would further compound issues of boys under-achievement.

"Pupils may not able to focus their attention for 90 minutes as these are very long periods."

Dr Ridge said schools would be advised to collect data, follow the results of pupils, and measure the impact of the policy on their grades.

In 2006, researchers at Duke University in the United States reviewed studies conducted on homework from 1987 to 2003, and found that some homework has a positive effect on student achievement, while too much homework does not.

Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education, said some schools view homework as an extension of learning as it teaches children to become independent learners.

“Homework also prepares children to be life-long learners, that is why schools have held fast to it," said Ms McKenzie.

"The downside is that homework robs children of time as they have long school days, and then come home to do an hour or two of work.

"Instead of being able to go out and play and develop their skills, they are sitting at the table with their studies. This can be very stressful for families."

She said families could adopt creative learning strategies, even when taking children along for chores such as shopping by interacting with them, making them pick vegetables or talking to them about the source of these products they purchase.

Robert Welsh, 43, a public school teacher and founder of Teacher Socials, a support group in Dubai, believes the education system in the country needs to be tweaked.

He said his pupils were motivated when asked to work on creative projects instead of being told to do homework.

"They would be interested if I told them that instead of homework, we could learn about cloud-seeding for example, or give the pupils an issue to talk about," he said.

Schools should look at university modules where a student is taught a topic and then gets the chance to research it after class, he advised.

Updated: February 14, 2020 11:03 AM

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