Homework has long been a defining characteristic of the educational experience. Kids don’t want to do it, parents and teachers make them, and the cycle repeats the next day.
Sturenskolan School, a high school located in a small Swedish town called Boden, is trying to alter this paradigm by completely abolishing homework and exams from the school’s curriculum. The school’s principal, Petronella Sirkka, claims credit for the idea.
Citing numerous scientific studies arguing that excessive amounts of homework are harmful for a child’s mental health, Sirkka believes that doing away with homework entirely is her part in enriching the lives of her students.
It is important to note that while Sturenskolan School is no longer assigning homework or administering regular chapter tests, nationally mandated exams are still given as required. In addition, children still receive grades on assignments completed in the classroom, so a method of assessment is in place.
The abolition of homework has also been classified as a “trial” and “experiment,” and the decision could be reversed if the school’s performance begins to suffer. The timing of the school’s Easter break has prevented anyone from getting a feel for how the program is working, but Sirkka hopes to institute a permanent ban on homework and tests for the 2019 school year.
Sirkka is not the first principal to ban homework from their school, as an elementary school in Montreal, Canada did so first. However, she is the first to eliminate regular exams and the study time that accompanies them, making her approach novel.
The school’s students have generally reported “relief” since the elimination of homework and tests to study for, but the policy has received mixed reviews from the overall community.
Scientific research suggests that the current paradigm may not be the best for children’s mental health. A 2014 study conducted by Stanford University and published in the Journal of Experimental Education found that excessive levels of homework increase stress and insomnia while making any pre-existing physical ailments such as headaches worse. The study also concluded that homework leaves little time for socialization with friends and family, potentially hurting a child’s ability to form healthy relationships moving forward.
Other studies suggest that these issues are not just limited to Sweden. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 31.9 percent of American adolescents have an anxiety disorder against just 19 percent of American adults. Furthermore, the number of American teenagers hospitalized for suicidal thoughts has doubled over the past decade, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics.
To be clear, nobody is arguing that homework alone is responsible for this anxiety. A variety of factors, including bullying and peer pressure, also play significant roles.
Yet many believe homework to be a substantial part of the problem. The Case Against Homework, written by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, argues that homework provides no measurable benefits but numerous drawbacks. According to the book, homework compromises parental choices, hurts the mental health of those it is assigned to, and deprives the family unit of vital family time.
Homework supporters often argue that a parent helping a child with their homework is a valuable bonding experience, but the authors anticipated the argument and attempt to counter it in their book. They believe that discussions around homework are often negative in nature, preventing them from being valuable interactions. Furthermore, an exasperated parent who ends up completing the assignment themselves ends up providing no benefit to anyone.
Opponents of this approach remain steadfast. Many argue that homework is not responsible for the loss of family time and socialization, instead attributing the cultural phenomenon to TV, cell phones, and video games. They argue that the abolition of homework will not have any of the positive impacts its biggest detractors expect, instead only allowing kids to spend more time in front of a screen.
The future performance of Sturenskolan School is likely to play a role in how this debate shakes out.