What is Homework Like Around the World?

Here's a snapshot of what homework looks like around the world.Back-to-school means back-to-homework routines. For some, this is a fun and easy process; for others, it’s the worst part of their day! Here’s a snapshot of what homework looks like around the world.

Homework. It varies from school to school and state to state, but one thing that doesn’t is the debate over whether homework is effective, and if so, how much (or how little) is beneficial for our children? The average American student in 3rd-12th grades does at least an hour or more homework a day, which some parents (and educators) feel is entirely too much, especially for elementary children. But this isn’t necessarily the case in other countries.

Take Finland, for example. Finnish students do a maximum of three hours of homework a week, and that’s a high estimate. Yet, consistently Finnish students take top honors in aptitude and achievement tests across the globe. This leaves many wondering what their ‘secret’ is.

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Research done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that children in higher socioeconomic status groups tend not only to do more homework than children in lower income groups, but correspondingly, do better on tests overall. Still, some countries with large homework dosages (like America) don’t have scores that represent those larger homework assignments while countries like New Zealand and Finland have higher achievement scores with less homework.

So, what does homework around the world look like? It varies greatly, as do achievement scores. In Russia, children do an average of 9.7 hours of homework a week, focusing on languages and requiring reinforcement. According to the 2014 Pearson Review that ranks education systems, Russia was ranked 13th. Italy and the United States followed Russia with the greatest amounts of homework assigned to students (6.7 and 6.1 hours weekly, respectively) with Italy ranking 25th and the United States ranking 17th.

Parents in these countries are more and more criticizing the amount of homework given, saying children are not allowed to be children, and they need more time to just play. As more research comes out questioning the amount of time put into homework corresponding with better test scores, even educators are making decisions to reduce homework amounts. 

Conversely, students in Finland and South Korea do an average of 2.9 and 2.8 hours a week, respectively, and are ranked as the fifth and first best education systems in the world. In Finland, the Director-General of the Centre for International Mobility says that Finnish schools are places where students are safe and learn who they are and what they can do. Where the world does more, Finnish students do less as they learn about themselves and the world.

South Korea does not have as much pressure of grade-to-grade exams, and homework assignments show that. That said, there is great pressure on students to do well on end-of-high school placement exams, but South Korean education specialists say they are prepared from diligent work through their school careers and their after-school tutoring programs. Most South Korean students, no matter their family income, spend lots of time in after school academic programs and have very little time to play.

Brazilian children only do about 3.3 hours of homework a week, but they rank 38th as an educational institute. The Brazilian infrastructure is not one that funds public schooling well at all, and researchers believe that high levels of homework are not given simply because many feel there is no need in a country where 18% of the population is functionally illiterate.

Japanese students do an average of 3.8 hours a week of homework, but receive high quantities of homework to do over summer breaks. Japan ranks second on the list of best education institutes, and many believe that the purpose of teachers is to show children how to find answers, whether online or in books. Homework typically consists of much online work, even in younger grades.

The United Kingdom’s and France’s children do about 5 hours of homework a week, with focus not being so much on homework for reinforcement of lessons but more for routine and structure of learning. Both countries value traditional school routines, with 6.5% of the United Kingdom’s schools being privately funded and conventional in teaching styles.

And if you happen to live in Shanghai? Your child would have an average of 13.8 hours a week of homework. That is basically the equivalent of two extra school days. Parents and students find the work exhausting and stress-inducing, yet they continue to do it because Shanghai students regularly score in the top ranks for math, reading and science achievement tests. They find homework pivotal to that success.

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Essentially, homework looks different in different parts of the world because different cultural norms lead the way. As more brain-based research comes out, perhaps there will be a shift toward what is developmentally appropriate versus what is believed to increase test scores.

And, based on what the last OECD report said, that may be happening sooner than later, as many countries have recognized the need to reduce homework levels. In almost every country across the earth, with the exception of U.S. students, the average number of hours students spent doing homework from 2003 to 2012 went down. American homework hours actually increased, while test scores were basically at a standstill for the studied ten years.

Hmmm. Perhaps the U.S. should be looking around the globe a bit more.

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