At 10 minutes to 10 in the morning, the next class is about to start at Käpylä primary school in Helsinki, the capital of Finland.
School days here are quite intense because, in Finland, the place for formal learning is a classroom.
Ville Teittinen teaches form 3A.
The lesson starts by checking their homework. Each group gets reward points for good work.
His class is divided into two groups, one group does some English and the other maths.
Splitting the form gives the teacher a chance to give each child individual attention, and identify any learning difficulties.
He explains why he does it this way: “This gives me the opportunity to really know what’s going on inside their heads. It is a different thing from what I say in class and what I think is going on in their heads”.
The philosophy is that all learning should happen in school.
Daily homework should not exceed 30 minutes. Some youngsters can do it in less.
Ville Teittinen again: “One important thing in learning is motivation. If the workload is not overwhelming then it is fun, too much repetitive work would discourage them.
Time spent on homework varies a lot, but the kids say it is generally within the allotted half an hour.
One of them, Urho, said: “Maybe less than 10 minutes.” Another, Pauliina said it was even less: “If homework is difficult about six minutes”.
At 1.00 pm school is over for the day.
For pupil Eemeli homework is not a problem: “When you have finished your day at school you can quickly go out and play with friends and you don’t have to spend all day doing homework.”
Without much homework, there is time to enjoy the rest of the day.
Research shows the learning process continues outside school, which is backed up by teacher Ville Teittinen’s experience: “For example the kids who learned to read at school very often got it during the Christmas holiday for example. The brain works during the rest too”.
Finland has learnt the lesson, and its school system has been proven to be efficient.
‘Pisa’ test results, conducted by the OECD, consistently put Finland in the top five countries worldwide.
Many people support the idea of abolishing homework completely for primary school children, and even for middle school pupils.
But the debate is far from over.
At Sydney University students accept that extracurricular study is a crucial part of their education. But does the same apply to younger pupils?
Richard Walker, associate professor of educational psychology at the institution, has completed a detailed study of the value of homework.
He told Learning World: “What we do know is that the countries which do best in the international tests of achievement, countries like Finland for instance, have very low levels of homework. Countries that have very high levels of homework tend to do less well in the tests of international achievement and there is now very clear evidence from German research that spending more time on homework leads to lower achievement outcomes.”
Walker and colleague Mike Horsley spent two years examining systems and children’s experiences worldwide for their book,‘Reforming Homework’.
He says homework should have several components: “We think that there’s good reason to think homework should involve some new learning. It should be of high quality, that means it should be challenging to students but not overly demanding. It should be motivating and interesting. It probably should involve some inter-active component, so that children are inter-acting with other people during the course of doing their homework.”
Walker and Horsley stress pupils do not always benefit from studying at home.
Richard Walker explains: “With primary school children when we look at learning and achievement the results are not very significant. For young primary school children there is no benefit at all. For children in the upper years of primary school, very small benefit. When we come to self-directed learning skills there are benefits though.”
And he says in countries like Australia and the US, the movement against kids doing school work at home is quite active: “There is a pretty strong anti-homework lobby in the US, and there are anti homework advocates in the US who basically argue that homework is a matter of personal and social liberation. That homework eats into family time too much and that it reduces the involvement of families in social activities and creates greater social alienation.”
The debate on homework is a hot issue, not just in Australia, where the great outdoors is an ever present temptation for students who resent staying at home to study.
And it is a debate more and more countries are having.
But in Argentina, homework is still seen as an important part of reinforcing what is learned in the classroom.
However there is one important difference.
Some children do homework while still at school.
The primary school of San Luis Gonzaga is in the capital, Buenos Aries.
Like the majority of schools in Argentina, it uses homework as a learning tool.
According to its supporters, homework fulfills the function of giving the pupils the opportunity to revise, to take responsibility for their own planning and learning how to learn – so there is no point in changing it.
At San Luis Gonzaga primary, there is a homework class for pupils who stay at school during the afternoon.
After lunch, 4th grade pupils do their homework for one and an half hours, under the supervision of the homework teacher, or, in Spanish ‘la maestra de apoyo’.
For pupil Augusto this is a positive thing: “We share information, one person knows one thing, another something else. So we put it together, and everyone knows everything.”
Another pupil, Damila, backs him up: “When we get home, we don’t have to think about what it means: I just do my homework.”
Mirta Garcia is the homework teacher. She supports the children, helping them to develop the ability to work both independently and as a group and believes homework teaches pupils to take responsibility for their tasks and prepare for life.
But, she says, the teacher has to find the best method: “It’s done in a way that is not imposed or boring, I do it in a pleasant way. That, I think, is the idea of our support. The task is done, is fixed, but through a moment of happiness.”
Homework serves to improve communication between teachers and parents and to make contact between school and family more frequent and more efficient .
When parents come to pick up pupils, Mirta provides feedback so they can keep up with the children’s performance.
So, after homework is finished, the kids can go home and enjoy the rest of the day with family and friends.