Homework weighs down Class 1 students

Four-year-old Vasanth steps away from his Ben10-themed work desk for the third time in 15 minutes - this time to have a drink of water. His grandfather has been trying to get him to finish four pages of tracing capital and small letters in cursive writing and Vasanth cannot sit still for five minutes at a stretch.

"I rarely get the time to look at what he's done at school. The only update I get about what he does at school is when I get him ready in the morning," said his mother Sindhu Vasan. When she finds that he hasn't done his homework in the morning, she says she scribbles them out herself, sometimes so his pre-school teacher doesn't give him a sad smiley. "He's too young to write so much," Sindhu says in defence.

Parents of children who attend nursery or primary school in the city often say that there are far too many writing assignments than they can cope with at such a young age. This is especially so in the case of many matriculation schools as well as the more storied institutions affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The rigour in their approach to education begins to manifest itself even in the early classes.

The parent of a Class 1 student in a leading CBSE school said her daughter writes an average of six pages (in a four-lined notebook) everyday - at least four in class and another two at home. Radha Narayan recalls the day her daughter complained of a stomach ache while at school, and when she landed up to take her home, her daughter confessed that what she really wanted was to get away from school. "She told me that her hands were aching and she just couldn't write any more," Radha said. "I'm afraid she will get an aversion to school," Radha added.

But schools say people like Radha Narayan are in a minority. "Many parents want homework as evidence that their child is learning. And writing, more than any other homework, gives concrete proof that their child is getting his or her fee's worth of education," said the correspondent of a private matriculation school. Parents anxious about academic scores often want to expose their children early to pedagogic methods that use repeated reading and writing exercises to improve rote-based learning.

However, some experts say kindergarten children are just too young to start writing. "It's equivalent to making an adult trace the alphabets with a pencil between his or her toes. That's how difficult it is for young children to hold a pencil between their tiny fingers," said educational consultant Prema Daniel.

Academics accuse teachers of using writing as a shortcut to teaching a language. Sometimes it's just ignorance and lack of imagination although lack of space and time are also often cited as reasons. "It's a ridiculous way of teaching the alphabet. Semantics is the way to teach a language," said educationist S Anandalakshmy.

But, not all homework is bad, say experts. Learning at home is an essential part of good education and gives parents the opportunity to engage with their children's education. Educational consultant K R Maalathi said, "Some work needs to be carried back home to recapitulate on what has been done in school. But this does not include meaningless writing or copying from the blackboard." She suggests that teachers give parents specific instructions on how they should help children with their learning.

Some say the new age schools take a less formal approach which suits students better in the early years of schooling. The emphasis there is on experiential learning through audio and video aids as well as activities that enhance social and interpretational skills as well as physical development.

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