Our students need less homework and more reading for fun

27 December 2014

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Singapore Democrats

A study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that, in terms of students spending the most number of hours doing homework, Singapore ranks third. This is not an honour we should win.$CUT$

The study surveyed 15-year-olds and found that those in Singapore spent an average of 9.4 hours on their homework a week. Students in Shanghai (13.8 hours) and Russia (9.7 hours) came in first and second respectively.

Students spend most of their time memorising facts and figures, and then practicing how to provide “model” answers to set questions in exams. How does this help to encourage their sense of inquisitiveness and independent enquiry – qualities vital for innovative thinking in the modern era?

Even the Chinese are lamenting their education system because it emphasises rote-learning and exam-taking at the expense of divergent-thinking and creativity.

University of Oregon Professor Yong Zhao, born and educated in China, wrote the book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World in which he says,

As traditional routine jobs are offshored and automated, we need more and more globally competent, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens—job creators instead of employment-minded job seekers. To cultivate new talents, we need an education that enhances individual strengths, follows children’s passions, and fosters their social-emotional development. We do not need an authoritarian education that aims to fix children’s deficits according to externally prescribed standards.

How do we break out of the mold of an exam-oriented system and foster creative learning? Answer: Give less homework, do away with the PSLE, stop ranking classes and schools, broaden the curriculum to include more humanities subjects, and encourage reading for fun.

(These ideas are discussed in detail in our alternative education policy Educating for Creativity and Equality: An Agenda for Transformation)

The more time our students spend remembering and regurgitating facts and formula, the less time they spend on reading - a habit which has been neglected in Singapore but one which is key to the formation of life-long learning skills.

Researchers Shaheen Majid and Venus Tan of the Nanyang Technological University found that a majority of Singapore students

were reading to improve their academic performance...Students often face pressure from their parents and teachers to improve their academic performance. The findings of this study suggest that probably even primary level students are not free from this pressure. Many children also expressed the wish to have more time for fun reading.

The educationists recommend that MOE consider reducing the workload of primary school children in order that they have sufficient time voluntary reading.

It is time that we look into reforming our education system. We need to allow our children to be children and, in the process, prepare them for the future.

In other words, we need leaders who can, and dare to, think out of the box.