Sunday Essay: Homework, doggone it

Sunday Essay Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan
Sunday Essay Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

THESE days, I’ve found, children have developed a habit that makes some parents want to tear their hair out.

No one knows who has put them up to it, but a lot of children make it a point to ask for cardboard, a glue gun, fabric, multicolored thread or some other material 10 minutes before the educational or crafting supplies store three kilometers away closes. They also tend to ask on the eve of the deadline for the Kalakathi puppets, math puzzle boards or crocheted tabletop doilies they were supposed to start working on three weeks ago.

It’s a more common source of parental irritation than deciding to do your child’s math homework yourself and finding out that area or rectangular array division takes more time than the long division you were taught as a child. And let’s not get started on the annual drama of finding your child a Buwan ng Wika costume that isn’t itchy and won’t fall apart as they start waving their arms while reciting a passage from Balagtas.

Two lawmakers’ proposals won’t do anything about the increasingly elaborate rituals of Buwan ng Wika but are meant, they have said, to give families more time to relax and enjoy each other’s company instead of arguing about some school task.

In filing House Bill 3883, Rep. Alfred Vargas of Quezon City intends to make schools follow a no-homework-on-weekends policy and to limit take-home assignments on schooldays “to a reasonable quantity.” He promised last week to remove a proviso that carries a P50,000 fine or jail time of one to two years for teachers who insist on giving homework during the weekends. It was something his staff had inadvertently copied from another bill, he said. By forbidding homework during the weekends, the representative said that students would gain “free time from the precisions of school during weekends.” Precisely.

The second proposal comes from House Deputy Speaker Evelina Escudero, who wants homework removed as a requirement in all levels of basic education. Wait, there’s more. In House Bill 3611, she also asks that except for those in Grades 7 to 12, all learners should be prohibited from taking their textbooks out of all schools, public or private. She cites the prevention of bad posture and its associated risks.

I don’t doubt that lawmakers Escudero and Vargas have good intentions but if they truly want to give Filipino families more quality time together, they might want to consider other possible solutions.

For instance, they might consider looking at the economic pressures that force working parents to take on side hustles and projects to provide for their children’s needs or pay for a host of extracurricular activities. They might consider reviewing the (weak) policies that regulate private school tuition rates and other school fees. They might want to consider how to fix the traffic gridlocks that keep families on the road far longer than they need to be, so they can get home with enough time and energy for family bonding.

A better use of legislative attention and power would be to push for an oversight committee to go over Republic Act 10533. Perhaps they’d find out if, six years after Congress approved it, the K to 12 curriculum works as intended. They’d understand what gaps or challenges in its implementation the executive department needs to fix. They might even find out if the way public school teachers’ performance is assessed is, indeed, learner-centered.

I would argue that a reasonable amount of homework would help learners develop some of the 21st century skills the revised curriculum was supposed to foster, like self-direction, initiative, and the ability to manage complexity. Some of my happiest memories involve going over lessons (vocabulary, reading, typing, whatever I needed) that my mother made time for, after a full day at the office. Can one legislate good parenting?

As for setting what a reasonable amount of homework means, that’s something parents and teachers, informed by up-to-date research, should be able to agree on. Congress has other, more urgent homework to do.


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