Do we need less, more, or no homework?

Privilege speech on ‘No-Homework’ Policy *

Mr. President, the title of my privilege speech is, “What is the purpose of homework? Do we need more or less?” 

So I ask all of you to remember your grade school days. I’m just curious to know if our colleagues have experienced a lot of homework, a little homework, or no homework. May I ask for a very informal survey from my colleagues? 

So, no homework, raise your hand. Minimal homework, ayan, si Joel. Homework, minimal? 

So, a lot of homework? Did anyone experience? Ah, si Grace, a lot. Okay, Senator Grace and Senator Risa answered a lot of homework. 

Si Senator Sherwin, hindi sumagot. Okay. 

So, clearly, we all come from a different background, Mr. President, when it comes to our education experience. Because whether you come from a private school or a public school, there’s also a lot of latitude given to our teachers. 

So in the news for the past few weeks were articles on bills that have been filed to drastically lessen or even ban homework during the weekends. But before we decide, and before I hope that the Senate as a body starts discussing the issue of homework, let’s understand first what is the purpose of homework. 

So this is a summary that we culled from various sources. The purpose of homework is to help reinforce what was taught in class; to gather extra info beyond what was taught; to enhance a student’s knowledge on the subject; and to help struggling students improve their grasp of the topic.

So nowhere there says that the student is meant to study alone. That’s not the purpose of homework, or to learn on their own. It’s really to reinforce, to increase, and enhance their knowledge.

But when we discuss whether we will increase or decrease homework, the question we need to ask ourselves is: Is there a correlation between top performing countries when it comes to education standards and their homework hours?

So, I chose five countries to present to you, I’ll show you the slide. So these are the top 5 countries that will be shown to you are Finland, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, and Japan. 

So interestingly, these five countries are the top 5 in the least number of homework hours in a week. Finland has 2.8, South Korea has 2.9, all the way to Japan, 3.8. So that’s less than one hour a day of homework. 

What is now their ranking in the educational system ranking? This happens to be a 2014 ranking, there are updates, but I’ll tell you that these countries are more or less still in the top. 

So in terms of the best education system ranking, Finland is top 5, South Korea is number 1, and Japan is number 2. So for the top 5 countries in terms of less homework… you can conclude that there is a correlation if you look at the three. 

But the other two are not in the top, they’re not even in the top 30. So I have more data, but I am keeping you at five to keep the discussion simple. So you can’t really say there’s a correlation because Brazil and Argentina that have very minimal homework are in the top 40 only, not in the top 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. 

Well the reason for that is because there are many other factors that go into the success of an educational program. And I’ll quickly walk you through it. Let’s look at South Korea that has consistently been in the top. Only 2.9 hours of homework per week. However – and I apologize that the print is so small so I will have to read to all of you – that’s a little bit misleading because they only have 2.9 hours of homework, but they have hours and hours of private study time. They have a lot of after-school work, either in the school or outside of the school. That is typical to many, if not all, of the Korean students. And the classrooms have all the amenities of smart technology, high-speed internet, etc. And they also have summer school. So that’s the situation in South Korea. 

Japan, I would say, is similar in the sense that they have very low homework but they also have so much after-school activities, both academic and non-academic. In fact, the teachers and the students are in charge of cleaning their own schools. That’s a major part of their daily activities. They clean their own school. Some schools require that they come in on Saturdays for studies, and they give a lot of time for both academic and non-academic activities after school. 

Finland is actually my favorite. Only 2.8 hours of homework per week. But, let me walk you through all the other amenities and support that Finland gives to their students. School actually starts at [age] 7. So what does that mean? They don’t have to go to school? It’s not required. But they have a very strong early childhood education system in every community. And I think the figure is like, 90% send their children to early childhood education even though it is not required. 

Their schools have free meals, they have easy access to healthcare, they have psychological counseling, and the teachers – this is the best part, as far as I am concerned – all of the teachers teaching basic ed are required to have a master’s degree. It is an honor to become a teacher in Finland. It is one of the most prestigious jobs, to be a teacher in Finland. 

And I watched TED Talks, I would be very happy to share it with you, I’ve watched videos, I’ve read books on the Finnish education. It really was a country-wide decision to make their education system this way. And one last point. There are no private schools. If I say none, maybe there’s one or two, because it says basically there are none. They’re all public schools. So, the conclusion is, no matter how rich you are, you are forced to support a public school system because your kids will go to public school. So that’s how it is in Finland. 

I also want to emphasize that they are very big on giving latitude to the teachers to decide on how to teach. And when they’re questioned, this is based on a US comparative study, would a Finnish family want to transfer to another community or cross-town because there’s a better school, there’s no such thing daw like that in Finland because all the schools are created the same. They have such high respect for the teachers that they will not even think that mas magaling yung teacher dun kaysa sa teacher dito. So ganun po dun. 

Now, this is the sad thing about homework that I want to point out. There are numerous studies that show that homework reinforces inequalities in socio-economic classes in some countries. How does this happen? 

In many countries in the world, those who belong to the upper socio-economic class go to private schools, and they do a lot of homework compared to those who go to public schools. And the outcomes are very different. Those kids in the private schools with a lot of homework end up faring better. So if you look at that study in isolation, you will conclude that more homework is better. I am not prepared to make that conclusion. I’m just pointing out studies that show in a country, there are these inequities that are brought about [by] the different kinds of education that children can avail of.

Let’s dissect that. What difference is there between a private school, where you pay, and where a child will go to, versus a public school? I don’t have a slide to show you, but I can tell you from experience, and I’ve been talking to a lot of parents, and to visiting a lot of schools. 

Number one, it would be access to after-school programs in and outside of school, both academic and non-academic. Let me give you a moment to think about that. All of you who have children have to know that either your child would be involved in glee club, in sports, in arts, in music, in debate, and so on and so forth. 

The school that my daughters went to, which is La Salle Zobel High School, they are very known for sports, so a lot of the kids there excel in sports, and a lot of them go on to participate in… the Atenista sitting beside me is nagkakamot, wala akong plug tungkol sa Ateneo kasi wala akong anak na nag-Ateneo, but I will give you the floor later on.

But my point is, go to a private school and access to activities, both academic and non-academic are never ever wanting. Sometimes, it is subsidized, or the parents will pay extra. The point is, there is access. That is not so in many public schools. 

The other difference between socio-economic classes when it comes to education is the proper environment. Many children coming from an upper class would be able to go home and either quietly study in their dining table or quietly study in their own bedroom, or some would even have a study room. 

Most people who send their children to public schools do not have that. Salo-salo na ho yung dining table, yung living room, nanonood ng kung anuman pinapanood, wala hong opportunity to concentrate. And that has been identified as a major problem in making homework effective. They cannot even focus when they are in an environment like that. 

And third is the support from family and caregivers. Whether it’s a parent or a substitute parent when parents are working and they can afford to hire a tutor, there is support given when you come from a higher socio-economic bracket. Those who come from a lower economic bracket have more difficulty because probably the working mom and dad cannot afford to get a tutor. Baka wala rin naman tita o lola na magtuturo. So wala na ngang magandang environment, wala rin hong support na naibibigay. 

So without that, it becomes extremely difficult to have an effective homework program. 

Meanwhile, I also want to point out the situation of teachers. I am so envious of the reality that in Finland, teachers are one of the highest paid. Why? Because I want to be able to leave that kind of legacy to our children, that you go to any school in the Philippines, and you will get the best education. 

I know that our teachers are hardworking, a lot of them were scholars on their own, but the reality is, we could do better in terms of making that career track more effective and more attractive to teachers. We could do better in trying to pull the best and the brightest into the teaching profession.

Now, why is it so important to have a good teacher? Well, a good teacher will not just go by the books. A good teacher will identify the strengths and weaknesses of their students. And this is where the correlation to homework comes in. To dictate upon a teacher a blanket prohibition against assignments or a mandate of exactly how much time to give a student in terms of homework would restrain his or her ability to provide for the needs of his or her students.

So before anyone concludes that I am pro-homework, I want to put on record that I come from a no-homework background. My mother is a preschool teacher, and I went to a school that had basically no homework for the entire grade school. And I loved it. Maybe because my background comes from being with my mother all the time, I studied on my own. 

And if you look at the successful programs in other countries, that’s what it is all about. It’s providing a learning environment wherever you are, not ABC types of homework. So I am not against homework per se, but I am definitely for creating the best kind of learning environments for our students. 

If we dictate a number of hours, what about those who follow an academic track? My children did not go to an international school. They went to a private school, but not an international school. So I don’t have personal experience with the IB program, maybe somebody here has, want to share it. But all I know is, for those who have sent their children to the IB program, it is extremely tedious and these kids study all day, every day, Saturday and Sunday, kulang na kulang sa tulog.

But they do that because that is what is required to enter a prestigious school abroad. So how can we now say, “Huwag kang mag-homework” kung yun yung requirement para matapos mo yung academic track na yun? Paano natin ili-limit yung…

Or let’s say, a student is struggling when it comes to Math. Pero desidido siya to pursue a career in Science, but there are Math requirements. So, the teacher may require that that student does extra work. So if you prohibit that, then we effectively banned that student from getting extra work from their teacher. 

And I actually had told my kids in high school, “Ask your teacher for more work.” Kasi nga, kapag walang homework, I love it, but if they’re struggling, then they need extra work so that they can catch up. 

So that’s my only concern here, Mr. President. I am such a believer of no homework, I am such a believer. I will end my privilege speech with a photo of a holistic child, because I am in full support of limiting and only focusing on quality homework, because we want a holistic child. That is our objective. 

I made this up. In fact, kulang pa nga kasi meron pa akong dagdag na community and church. But basically, this is what we want for our children. That they learn outside of school. And there are also tried and tested results showing that if you study continuously, you do not give your brain a chance to recover and come back fresh. 

It is actually recommended, before you take exams, that you take a nap, you have a good sleep, because that’s how the brain works. It can only retain memory when it’s given a chance to take a break. So, I repeat that I am all for studying the effect of homework. But I would like to ask this body to approach this not in isolation. Let us look into what we need to do to provide our children with a holistic learning environment.

It cannot be homework or no homework only. It has to be an environment that promotes learning in the classroom, outside of the classroom, in the homes, in the communities, and wherever they are in the Philippines. 

So, I end on that note, Mr. President, knowing that everybody here genuinely wants to be able to provide the best for our young children. 

Thank you! 

*Privilege speech delivered at the Senate session on September 2, 2019 (Monday)

Senator Pia S. Cayetano being interpellated by Senator Joel Villanueva.
Cayetano: “I am not against homework per se, but I am definitely for creating the best kind of learning environments for our students.”