The “holistic approach” to child development was the reason for this jack-in-the-box treat for school children: House Bill (HB) No. 3611 filed by House Deputy Speaker Evelina Escudero proposes to remove homework as a requirement for Kinder to Grade 12 students and prohibit students from taking textbooks home in order to “lighten their physical burden” and to do academic activities solely within school premises; and HB No. 3883 filed by Quezon City Representative Alfred Vargas, which seeks to “promote and protect the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being of the youth” and prohibits elementary and high school teachers from assigning take-home assignments to students for the weekend. Senator Grace Poe filed Senate Bill No. 966 to establish a no-homework policy for all primary and secondary schools in the country, according to a GMA News report on Aug. 30.
In the wake of instant fury from upset parents and incensed educators, Mr. Vargas clarified on CNN Philippines’ The Source on Friday last week that the initially imposed P50,000 fine and up to two years of imprisonment on teachers who violate the policy was “just mistakenly included in the bill.” CNN called it a “boo-boo.”
It was a boo-hoo-hoo how Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones last Tuesday so readily expressed support for the lawmakers’ proposal to implement a “no homework” policy among kindergarten to Grade 12 students in the country. “Lahat ng mga lessons dapat during school hours. After that si parents na… Para ’yung mga bata naman ay may time mag-bond sa parents o maglaro o just to relax by themselves (All lessons should be during school hours. After that, the parents are in charge… so that the children have time to bond with the parents, or play or just relax),” Briones said in a report by Oscar Oida on GMA’s 24 Oras.
Ma’am Briones, your father was a school teacher, and you have always been in academe — at Silliman University and the University of the Philippines. Surely, in decades of living and breathing education, from being a student in childhood and youth and through college and doctoral to post-doctoral degrees, and in your career as a professor (to professor emeritus at UP College of Public Administration) you know that lessons are not taught just during school hours — how can you reverse yourself on this fact of life about learning?
Homework, or additional “research,” or supplemental work after, and above and beyond, class lectures, seat work, and recitations are an integral and necessary part of the meticulously calibrated, scientific design of education, to be guided and controlled by the syllabus and course outlines from basic to secondary school to collegiate, masteral and doctoral. For almost five centuries of the Philippine educational system, the Filipino child expected, needed, and accepted “homework” or outside-the-classroom work to supplement what was being taught in the schools. “Read pages so-and-so as your homework for tomorrow/next meeting” is the familiar closing remark of almost every teacher/professor to the class.
Homework is critical because there is specific classroom hours-per-semester and coverage of material to be complied with the DepEd. From experience, the teacher of a one-hour subject with classes held twice or thrice a week cannot physically comply with the requirements, and thus “extra work” or “make-up” must be assigned. Besides, the teacher must be able to mark and grade the student by the individually submitted assignments, aside from quizzes and exams, the latter being too late for both the teacher and the student to remedy. Recitation cannot go around adequately in a class of 30 to 45 pupils, especially if the pupils were not assigned “homework” to prepare for the next meeting for that subject.
That is another argument against the “No homework” proposal: the very high teacher-to-student ratio in primary and secondary education. DepEd Undersecretary Jesus Mateo said the teacher-student ratio improved from one teacher per 45 students in previous years to 1:31 for elementary and senior high school and 1:36 for junior high school. The current DepEd parameter limits the students to a maximum of 30 per class in kindergarten, 35 in Grades 1 to 3, and 40 in Grades 5 to 12, but there is pending legislation that would allow the class size at 35 to 50 students, according to a March 29 story of the Philippine Star. What perverse logic is there to “lessen the load” on Filipino students when there is not even enough instruction to them, thanks to the sorry teacher-to-student ratio, the dire lack of classrooms, and the un-updated textbooks and curriculum?
Some proponents of the no-homework proposal cite Sweden as the model of pupils being taught comprehensively enough during school hours, and thus no need for homework. But Sweden has a teacher-to-pupil ratio of 1:11.9 for primary and 1:13 for secondary levels. The US has 1:15.23 and 1:15.9 respectively (Education Statistics nces.ed.gov/1992) and Singapore has 1:15.2 for total both levels (2017 data.gov.sg 2017).
Now, let’s look at primary and secondary education in Singapore, extolled by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 2014 as having the best educational system in the world. There, on top of homework, is the tradition of the “after-school program” voluntarily paid for by parents to tutor children after regular school hours. A 2012 report by the Asian Development Bank and the University of Hong Kong showed that 97% of all Singaporean students are enrolled in tutoring schools comparatively costing 80% of regular school tuition. The same drive for better education brings nearly 90% percent of South Korean primary students and about 85% of Hong Kong senior secondary students to after-school tutoring, according to the same study.
And here we are, cutting down on the preparation of our young students for life. Mr. Vargas, in proposing HB 3883, cited a 2018 study in South Africa that had argued “that homework is a burden for children and parents,” has caused the decline of family time, and even undermines learning interest,” according to a Rappler story on Aug. 28.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) reacted by chastising Congress to instead focus on reviewing the K to 12 curriculum. “We are not issuing homework to burden our students. It is demanded of us by the K to 12 program, so much (so) that our performance evaluation system ensures its implementation,” ACT was quoted as saying by Rappler. It is really hard to understand that after young students were meted out two more years in K to 12 before college, now, the 180-degrees noblesse oblige to lessen their load by no-homework! Of course, the students will be happy — they will have more time with their gadgets and social media, their curious minds trying out new and could-be dangerous other things. No, it will probably not be bonding with family — Mom and Dad are not home from work yet when children come home in the afternoon. Or the parents are working abroad.
Teacher’s Dignity Coalition said: “Our teachers are trained educators. We know the value of homework. It’s about discipline, responsibility, and continuity of learning,” quoted Rappler. That captures the exacting trade-off of no-homework. The molding of principles and values will be retarded with less training in responsibility and discipline that would have prepared our young students early on for the realities and challenges of adult life. In basic education, the child is ushered into community life outside the controlled environment of the home, where, in the classroom there are individual roles, responsibilities and deliverables under supervision and guidance of an authority who is not a parent. Up the educational ladder, performance is measured and marked, which builds the instinctive discipline to comply and abide by rules and earn “promotion” by the quality and quantity of incremental mental, emotional, and physical development in progress. School is a preparation for a career or profession, not only in terms of the curriculum vitae but in the ingrained values of discipline and responsibility learned above academics. And even in a job or a practice, there is always homework and continuing education!
Lawmakers should have done their homework on their dangerous “No-homework” proposal.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.