Parents raise alarm of overwhelming homework

Bonolo Mtengwane busy with her homework at Desmond Tutu Community Library in Munsieville, Mogale City. Dumisani Sibeko

Bonolo Mtengwane busy with her homework at Desmond Tutu Community Library in Munsieville, Mogale City. Dumisani Sibeko

Published Mar 5, 2022


Cape Town - Parents have been left frustrated about the amount of homework their children have been receiving.

Sakeenah Ponto, whose daughter is in Grade 1, said: “My challenge or issue is they get way too much homework, and as a Muslim, my faith also plays a huge role. We have to make provision for our children to get Islamic learning in as well. Our kids basically have a full 12 plus hours of non-stop learning at such a young age. This is something that causes mental breakdowns. I have heard mothers complaining that their children aren't coping at all.”

Another parent, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the amount of homework was absolutely ridiculous.

“I have three kids in primary school, so homework in our home takes even longer as each child needs attention and assistance with homework. I've written a letter to one of the teachers, and she has never acknowledged my letter up to this day. I've then made contact with the school principal via text messaging, and he just responded, ‘thanks for letting me know.

“Some days, we sit till after bedtime and then continue at 6am in the morning. We have no more family time during the week. Dinner time has moved from 5.30pm to 7pm. I really feel that homework has become a form of child abuse,” she said.

Natasha Abuba, whose daughter is in high school, said her child sometimes needs to complete homework over the weekend.

“Teachers must understand that weekends are for children to rest, and they need to rest in order to feel fresh for the next school day. If it was still going every second day to school, then I would understand because they would need to catch up on work.”

Pastoral counsellor Rochè Robarts said she had parents approach her to ask for guidance regarding the well-being of their children due to the heavy workload.

“Children between ages six and eight have an average concentration span of 16 - 20 minutes. I have found, especially during Covid and the sphere where we find ourselves in now, that the children in this age group struggle to adapt mentally and emotionally with the amount of work given. Especially the children who are and have been exposed to trauma or grow up in broken homes. The pressure and stress to get tasks done are emotionally overwhelming,” she said.

Senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg Mary Metcalfe said: “The issues around homework need to be age-appropriate and carefully planned so that it is not just the teacher sending work home because there was no time to do it at school.

“Whatever the age of the child, they need to be able to work on homework independently, and the age capability of working on homework clearly varies from older children, where it is part of learning disciplines of prioritisation and planning and completing tasks.

“For younger children, it is a more gentle orientation to independent learning at home,” she said.

Executive Director of Naptosa Basil Manuel said he understood the concerns of parents and that principals with the school management must give more guidance about this.

“As a past principal of a primary school, I have said to my teachers time and time again that when you give homework, it can only be reading and maths. You must ensure that they can finish that within 30 minutes, and intermediate phase homework cannot be more than an hour.

“There cannot be piles and piles of homework. Teachers have to strategise amongst one another to keep it at a limit. Not all children are within an environment where homework is simple, where they have lights or a place to even write. It is very difficult to say this is the standard for homework, but certainly, we cannot take away the childhood of children because they are only doing school work,” he said.

Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said in terms of tips for parents, guidelines can be found on their website.

“There are guidelines on our website which provide tips on how to organise homework, the time that children should spend on homework in each grade, and the benefits of doing homework properly.

“Homework requires careful planning and support from principals, teachers, parents and learners. Efficient management of homework, accompanied by careful planning, guidance and control by all the parties involved, will ensure that it does not become a burden,” she said.

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