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Homework: yes or no?

During these days millions of boys and girls are going back to school, and many of them are experiencing the intense emotion of their first days of elementary school (for some years now called “primary school”), intermediate school (or first-level secondary school) or high school (or second-level secondary school).

They spend many hours a day in the classroom, and once they get home one of the thorniest issues, and often the cause of much discontent, is that of homework. For years families and teachers have been debating what is the best method of learning and retaining concepts. The family, and above all the parents, often get involved in assisting the young pupils.

But what is the right way to help children and teens with their homework? Of course mothers, fathers, grandparents and older siblings should on no account do it for them: often, in order to impress their children, some parents step in and simply “dictate” the solution of a problem or the grammatical analysis of a sentence. The homework will indeed be perfect, but the pupil will not have achieved the learning objective. If we really want to help our children, it is better to just be close to them, by encouraging them to work things out independently when they come across difficult passages or by asking for their teacher’s support in case of serious gaps or problems.

As Maria Montessori’s lesson reminds us, the question of independence is crucial. A teacher and educator, Montessori developed in the first half of the last century a method that has now been adopted around the world, an educational system through which the child becomes more and more independent as he grows. In order for the learning process to be activated, it is important, for example, that the child be allowed to self-correct.

Another school of thought argues that there should be no homework at all. One of the main objectives of this educational approach is to promote teaching in the schoolroom, with longer school hours but without requiring students to spend whole nights (and unfortunately that does happen at times!) bent over their homework. Recently a no-homework experiment involving 150 schools started in Italy, and in the years to come we will be able to evaluate its results.

But one thing is sure: the “school system” must support young people and not hinder their growth by overloading them even in their so-called “free time” with demanding homework regardless of the number of hours spent in school


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