• Germany's news in English

Why homework is a total waste of kids’ time

Jörg Luyken · 4 Dec 2015, 12:40

Published: 04 Dec 2015 12:40 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Armin Himmelrath didn’t set out to write a book which called into question one of the oldest tenets of western education.

But by the time he had finished his research he was convinced that homework should be abolished.

“I found out that teachers have been giving homework since at least 1480,” Himmelrath, an educational journalist, told The Local.

“And there has also been research into its effects on children for the last 130 years. And in all this research I found no results which showed that it had a positive effect on them.”

On the contrary, if his research showed any overall result, it was that children would go into school the next day unmotivated and reluctant to learn after spending the evening doing homework.

“In the Swiss canton of Schwyz teachers didn’t give out homework at all between 1993 and 1999. Then, due to pressure from conservative parents it was then reintroduced.

“But a comparison with a neighbouring canton showed that there was no difference between the grades in the two cantons during this period.

"The only difference was that in Schwyz the children were much more motivated in class,” Himmelrath related.

What's worse, homework tends to increase social inequality.

“Studies show that the more educated a child’s parents are, the more likely they are to get involved in their child’s homework, either personally or by hiring a tutor,” said Himmelrath.

Armin Himmelrath. Photo: Jessica Meyer

On the other hand children who come from less privileged backgrounds and need to catch up on school work are more likely left to do it by themselves.

“But if I haven’t understood a problem in the school, it doesn’t matter how many times I repeat it by myself at home, I’m still not going to understand it,” the Cologne based writer argued.

Himmelrath’s prescription for the problem is “supervised and professionalized” independent work during school hours.

It should stop being called homework and start being called school work, he said, adding that only with the supervision can children progress with individual learning, by having a trained professional to explain solutions when the student gets stuck.

His suggestions, though, have come up against serious resistance, from parents and teachers alike. While he has written several other books on education "this was the first to provoke a shitstorm," the journalist said.

“Very many teachers tell me that school wouldn’t work without homework. But when I discuss it further with them 90 percent admit that it’s problematic.

“There is the time it takes them to collect it all in the morning and the time it takes them to hand it out and explain it. There are also the lies that children tell to explain why they haven't done it. All of this takes up time.”

Story continues below…

“I tell them: Stop giving it and then you have twenty minutes extra every day,” says Himmelrath.

The biggest resistance though, has come from parents, even though they are co-opted by teachers into threatening their children with punishment if they don’t get the work done.

“Parents seem to think that it shouldn’t change because it was the same when they were young. They say ‘it didn’t do me any harm.’ But that also doesn’t mean it was useful. That was also an argument many people used for corporal punishment.”

The central problem is that children are forced to learn through threat of punishment, Himmelrath said. “When this is the case you know something is very wrong.”

His kids, he says, improved their English by playing interactive computer games over the internet that meant they had to communicate with other players across the world. Others learn better by watching films.

“At home children shouldn’t be forced to work. They should be playing games or having discussions with their parents. This is of much more benefit to them anyway."

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jörg Luyken (joerg.luyken@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
German police carry out nationwide anti-terror raids
Police outside a building in Jena during raids on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Police forces in five German states carried out raids on Tuesday morning with the aim of tackling the financing of terror groups, police in Thuringia have reported.

The Local List
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Photo: DPA

So you've mastered German, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

Iconic German church being eroded away by human urine
Ulm Minster towering over the rest Ulm surrounding the Danube. Photo: Pixabay

It will now cost you €100 to spend a penny. That’s if you get caught choosing to pee against the world-famous Ulm Minster.

German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Four Ku Klux Klan groups active in Germany, says govt
An American member of the KKK at a gathering in Georgia. Photo: EPA.

The German government estimates that there are four Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups currently active in the country, according to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Tuesday.

Ex-chancellor Schröder to mediate in supermarket row
Gerhard Schröder. Photo: DPA

Can Gerhard Schröder bring an end to the Kaiser's Tengelmann saga?

Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd