Friday, September 24, 2010

School Kills Family Time and Robs Kids of their Childhood! No More Assignments for Kids - DepEd

Recently, the Department of Education ordered all primary school administrators and teachers "not to give assignments during weekends to their pupils, for them to spend quality time with their family, without being burdened of the thought of doing alot of home works" (DepEd Memo 392, s. 2010). Children and parents should celebrate this unconventional directive from Br. Armin Luistro, FSC, primary teachers are likewise lifted off the extra burden to check those assignments.

The directive, as presented in the news, was framed to offer alternative perspectives, but without actually hearing the sides or views of teachers, the DepEd and the pupils. I find the move radically progressive, but needing sustained monitoring, evaluation and support. The news actually intrigued me and moved me off my seat, with a "WTF?" is the DepEd thinking. But, as a critical and reflexive teacher, I have to process my thoughts and feelings to render a fair and constructive evaluation of this directive.

In the news presentation,not much is explained about the side of the Department of Education, except for the reason that Yolanda Quijano of the DepEd Bureau of Elementary Education. The reason suffices, but to understand its value and meaning to the Filipino family and to the learner needs deeper exploration.

The DepEd's directive is a response to some parent's complaint about their children's homework. This I would like to interrogate, as to the quantity and quality of data that the deparment has that ground its decision. Although by reason alone, the directive's intent is logical, but I can not rest convinced that there is an empirical basis on the displacement of quality family time due to assignments.

I could assume that the amount and type of assignments can undermine the quality of relationships between parents and children. But, then I argue that relationships can be fostered by the parent-children collaboration to do school-related tasks. This also adds value to the construct of social learning that should begin at home.

The directive has been perceived to be controversial because of its lack of empirical evidences. So the local news agencies relied on limited resources and informants to thread a narrative together that leads to question the decision.

How do teachers in the primary school give assignments? What kind of assignments do they give and why? What is behind the assignment that teachers think which should contribute to the development of a child? How much do these assignments affect the family relationship and childhood of school kids? How will this prohibition affect the quality of learning for the school children? What do empirical works tell about assignments?

Popular opinions diverge as influenced by the people's attitude towards the government. I saw myself to be also influenced by the fact that Br. Armin ordered the directive, because I am a teacher who shares similar views about education, which he also carries. Now, I suspend that personal bias and question the decision, relative to my critical self-examination of being a teacher.

When I taught English to primary children in the Kingdom of Bahrain,I was limited to four contact hours with them, in school. I never gave them assignments, everything that should be done, we did them in the class. The only reminder I would give them is to read and try to answer the exercises in our workbooks. Even if I give them assignments, I do not expect that they would do it. I would only tell them to speak English when they are out there.

Perhaps, that situation is indeed different. Kids do need to enjoy their childhood, and schools should reinvent to be more child-friendly. Basing from the comments of those teachers interviewed in the news, their reactions indicate a more teacher-centric perspective. Those in favor of giving assignments see that they help a child to review and prepare for the lesson. Those who do not give assignments reason that they want to give children quality time with the family, and so relieve from the burden of checking the assignments in the class. The reasons are all self-serving to the teacher, and not indicative of a true child-centered primary education

Assignments can reinforce, by supplementation and complementation, a child's learning and a child's social and family life. But this depends on the purpose, the type, quality and quantity of assignments that teachers give. Learners in primary education are children, ages 12 and below. Some teachers are wary of how the kids would spend their weekend. My question here is that do they get to feel the same anxiety as to how the children would spend the weekdays with them in their classrooms?

Its not in the sheer quantity of assignments, or the time spent in completing assignments. It is the purpose of these assignments that should be reexamined. The home is not an extension of the school, neither should the school extend to the home. One thing that a teacher could do is to reinvent its way of instructing the child, during contact hours. The home is no longer their domain. But, making sense of schools and learning into the community or family life is another thing.

If such will be explored, the assignments of school kids should not be limited to completing the exercises in their textbooks. That is a confinement of the child to the domains of the school. Rather, the teacher should give assignments that will enable the kid to construct knowledge, make sense of what he or she learned from school by experiencing authentic interactions at home, in their neighborhood or wherever they usually go in the weekends. Teachers should tap on the student's awareness and knowledge constructing skills applied to their authentic experiences.

My six-year old nephew, do not know the meaning of the words hakbang or steps. He learned these from leisurely reading with me a Children's book I bought him. Then I asked him to count the steps in the stairs, add and subtract number of steps.

Parents are also wary of the implications of not giving assignments to their children. My question is directed towards their sincerity towards their aim of providing their children quality education. They are in their own right mature adults. Many of the knowledge and behavior that the children bring to school are modeled and learned from them. Teachers find themselves in a difficult situation of trying to bend the child from things that were not taught correctly to them.

I say there is a need for assignment. Not for kids to make projects or answer exercises, read a chapter of a book or so. But for the parents and guardians of the Filipino school children to bond with them, keep track of their learning development, and support them by actually teaching them lifelong learning knowledge and skills. In this action, the school kids are not expected to specifically write, memorize or answer exercises or solve arithmetic problems.

Lifelong learning is fundamental to every learner. The fundamentals of living may be taught, discussed or read in the class, but they are not necessarily learned inside the classroom. Life is learned in life. Schooling is just one segment of kid's life. In this case, it should be the parents that should be given assignments that they will do for their own kids, as they are the ones who are directly in contact with them, for probably a lifetime. Anyway, assignments are actually done this way, either with the full intervention of a parent in the house, a sibling or a specially hired tutor.

The idea in this life learning assignment is to teach the parents how to teach their children about the fundamentals of living. With these assignment children are only expected to bring into the classrooms stories that they will share when they go back to school after the weekends. Say, a math teacher can require that parents help their kids identify the various shapes of objects in their house. A science teacher can require parents to tell their childish understanding of where does the sun go at dusk. An English teacher can ask parents to tell about their favorite fable and the lesson they learned from reading or hearing it. A social science teacher can ask parents to tell their children about a knowledge they have about a particular time in history or particular place in the world. From these many other things can be taught of.

Family relationships are built in communication. Knowledge also shared and constructed through communication. The narratives and oral traditions are viable means to build family relationships and reinforce the knowledge that the schools are processing. With what I suggest, assignments can be more meaningful to parents, learners and the school.It is the parents' responsibility to teach their kids the lessons of life, and the schools can help them learn this. The worry that students will be lost to their childhood is mitigated if the parents can be more engaged in training their children.