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LCQ9: Homework for primary school students

     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (November 18):


     Quite a number of parents of primary school students have relayed to me that their children have to complete considerable and difficult homework daily, resulting in their children lacking playtime. Some parents have even completed some of the homework for their children to avoid their children being deprived of sufficient rest time. As revealed by some surveys, primary school students currently have to complete on average seven to 10 assignments daily. Some lower primary students have even been given 23 assignments before the weekend break, who therefore have to work until midnight on Sunday to complete those assignments. Also, 90 per cent of the parents are of the view that the current homework load has exerted pressure on their children. There are views that one of the reasons for the ever-increasing amount of homework for primary school students is that the Education Bureau (EDB) removed the upper limits on the amount of homework for primary school students when it updated the Basic Education Curriculum Guide (Primary 1-6) in 2014. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether, in the past three years, it conducted any comprehensive study on whether primary school students have been given homework of an appropriate amount and level of difficulty, and assessed the impacts on primary school students' psychological and physical health caused by the pressure generated by the requirement to complete all the homework; whether it has assessed if the situation of giving considerable and difficult homework to students is contrary to the authorities' objectives for implementing the education reform; if it conducted such a study and made such an assessment, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(2) given that in the updated Guidelines on Homework and Tests in Schools issued by the EDB to schools in October this year, there is a guideline stating that schools should try to arrange time within lessons as far as possible for students to complete part of their homework under teachers' guidance, whether the EDB has conducted any extensive survey of the primary schools across the territory in respect of the implementation of this guideline; if the EDB has, of the details (including the number of schools which have implemented that guideline); if not, whether the EDB will conduct such a survey; and

(3) whether it will, in the light of the outcome of the aforesaid surveys, state afresh in the relevant guidelines the upper limits on daily homework, e.g. the time for lower primary students to complete all their homework (including homework in formats such as written work, online exercise, oral practice, etc) should not exceed 30 minutes a day, and that for upper primary students should not exceed 60 minutes; if it will, of the implementation timetable; if not, what measures the authorities will take to alleviate the pressure of homework on primary school students and their parents?



     In view of the public concerns over the amount of homework for primary students, the Education Bureau (EDB) issued the "Guidelines on Homework and Tests in Schools - No Drilling, Effective Learning" circular (the Circular) on October 31, 2015 to reiterate and urge schools to formulate an appropriate and transparent school-based homework policy and conduct regular holistic reviews on it. Schools have to coordinate the amount of homework at different class levels so that students can have sufficient time to rest, play and develop their interests.

     In actual fact, the EDB always lays emphasis on the quality rather than quantity of homework. As stated in Chapter 8 "Meaningful Homework" of the "Basic Education Curriculum Guide (Primary 1-6) 2014" (2014 Guide), the life-like, interesting and varied design of homework can promote reading and stimulate thinking. It can also cater for the different learning needs of students. Meaningful homework can consolidate what is learnt in class, extend students' reading or help them prepare for lessons. Homework must never be used as a means to fill up students' spare time after school. If exercises with focus on mechanical drills are used as homework, it will stifle students' motivation and their learning progress.

     With regard to Hon Michael Tien's enquiry, my reply is as follows:

(1) The Education Bureau (EDB) always attaches importance to the physical and psychological health, as well as the whole-person development of students. Over the years, the EDB has conducted random-sampling surveys to collect information of school measures on the implementation of various curriculum reforms. The 2008, 2011 and 2015 surveys have asked respondents (primary school heads, curriculum leaders, teachers and students) to provide their views on the quality and quantity of homework. Results are set out in the annex.

     According to the results of the 2008 and 2011 surveys, around 30 per cent of students had doubts about the statement "Give us an appropriate amount of homework". This indicated that there was variation among schools in implementing the homework policy. Based on this observation, the EDB, when formulating the "2014 Guide", has included clear guidelines on designing meaningful homework and devising homework policy in Chapter 8, namely "Meaningful Homework", for the school management (including both school leaders and teachers) as reference for policy implementation. Starting from the 2013/14 school year, schools are invited to share their experiences in the regular "Professional development programmes set for primary school curriculum leaders on whole-school curriculum planning". In the workshop, experiences on meaningful homework and the importance of regular reviews on homework policy are shared.

     As the 2015 survey is still in progress, follow-up actions will be duly taken once the findings have been consolidated.

(2) In 2000, the EDB implemented the education reform to foster students' whole-person development and lifelong learning. The curriculum reform was also launched with the aim of developing students' interest in learning and learning to learn capability. In the same year, the EDB issued the "Guidelines on Homework and Tests in Schools" to explain the principles and measures of meaningful homework. Undoubtedly, homework and assessment merit key considerations in curriculum planning.

     The purpose of meaningful homework to consolidate learning, deepen understanding and construct knowledge is explicitly stated in the "Basic Education Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 to Secondary 3) 2002". The frequency and amount of homework, ways of adopting a whole-school approach in devising homework policy and the role of parents are duly suggested as a blueprint for implementation in primary schools and as a reference for the general public.

     At the same time, the EDB has constantly reminded and monitored schools in their effective implementation of the curriculum guide through different channels and means (including external school reviews, focus inspections, school development visits and curriculum development visits, etc). Professional advice, support and reports are provided on school practices and students' learning needs. Timely professional advice and support will also be given to individual schools that have difficulties in formulating a school-based homework policy according to the guidelines set out in the Circular.

     On October 31 this year, the EDB issued a revised circular to schools, reiterating that meaningful homework can facilitate students to consolidate and extend learning, as well as to prevent the situation of inappropriate quantity of homework and excessive drilling from continuing or getting worse. When "doing homework" is pleasurable and rewarding for students, it is regarded as an effective learning activity. On the contrary, mechanical drills can hamper students' motivation and learning progress. Schools, when formulating their homework policy, should consider their school context and students' learning needs, and should arrange, as far as possible, lesson time for students to complete part of their homework under teachers' guidance. Meanwhile, schools should make good use of the home-school communication channel, for instance the parent-teacher association, parent meetings at class level and other social activities, to collect the views of parents about the quality and quantity of homework, so as to improve their homework policy.

     Every year, all schools are required to submit the school timetable to their respective Regional Education Offices. For all the school timetables submitted in the 2015/16 academic year, a majority of schools have arranged tutorial/class teacher periods for homework guidance within school hours.

     In order to ensure the successful execution of the respective measures as outlined in the Circular, the EDB has engaged the collaboration of different divisions to take the following steps:

(i) Focus group interviews with school leaders

     Starting from the end of November 2015, views of school sponsoring bodies, school supervisors and school heads will be collected through regular communication and collaboration in various annual meetings, focus group interviews and daily contact. This will help evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of the Circular.

(ii) Collaboration with and monitoring of schools

     Starting from December 2015, school visits will be conducted to assist schools in formulating an appropriate homework and assessment policy. Professional advice, support and reports on school practices and students' learning needs will be provided accordingly to enhance schools' self-improvement.

(iii) Professional development of the school management team

     Starting from January 2016, identical professional development programmes will be organised in four district regions to share with primary school leaders the good practices of implementing the school-based homework policy and assist them to effectively carry out the new measures as outlined in the Circular.

(iv) Close and transparent home-school partnership

     The EDB urges schools to discuss the Circular in the coming meetings with its parent-teacher association so that parents can be involved in their children's learning and collaborate with the school to further improve its homework policy.

     Under the principle of transparent and effective communication, parents are encouraged to proactively reflect to the schools of their children or the EDB the adverse conditions found in excessive homework and over-drilling so that appropriate follow-up actions can be taken to realise the spirit of the circular.

(3) In June 2014, while the revision of Chapter 8 "Meaningful Homework" of the 2014 Guide was in progress, the EDB conducted a number of focus group interviews to collect views on the amount of written homework from various stakeholders, including representatives of the Curriculum Development Council, primary school heads, teachers, parents and principals' associations. Through several rounds of deliberation, a shared view was reached that the types of homework today have become more open-ended and diverse. Since students nowadays can make use of information technology to complete their learning tasks, homework is not confined to "pen-paper" written work only. Therefore, it is not practicable to set for all schools a strict upper limit on the amount of written homework to be assigned. Instead, schools can exercise their professional judgment in devising school-based meaningful homework and co-ordinating its quantity at the respective class levels according to the essential principles in the curriculum guides, their school context, as well as students' abilities, interests and needs. It is also stated in Chapter 8 of the 2014 Guide that schools should regularly collect views from stakeholders, including parents and students, and continue to develop a quality homework policy through timely reviews and updates.

     The EDB strongly reiterates that every year, schools should formulate an appropriate school-based homework policy to regulate the quantity of homework assigned at different class levels and conduct holistic reviews so that students can have sufficient time to rest, play, develop their interests, and establish good relationships with their family members and peers. The Circular clearly spells out the principles of meaningful homework and the adverse effects of over-drilling to student learning. A variety of measures are also provided for school heads and teachers as reference.

     Further discussions and information collection would be needed to support the formulation of long-term strategies and measures on homework issues (including homework time, types and quality of homework, etc). At this stage, it is too hasty and inappropriate to propose "a strict upper homework limit" for all schools as this may undermine the existing effective school administration and teaching practices in most schools. EDB officers will continue to strengthen their communication with stakeholders through different channels and means to enhance schools' self-improvement and sustainable development on homework policy, in the light of keeping abreast with societal changes.

Ends/Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Issued at HKT 19:22


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