Spending an average of 9.4 hours to homework a week, 15-year-old Singaporeans rank third globally in a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Suddenly every Singaporean student is scratching their head — who in the world does more homework than us? Students from Shanghai rank first with 13.8 hours, unsurprising given the rigours they go through starting from a young age, where they are drilled with tests with an emphasis on rote memorization.
Surprisingly, the study finds that the amount of homework done globally has decreased since 2003 — the global average was 5.9 hours a week back then. The average is about 5 hours now.
In the most shocking finding of the century, countries who do more homework scored better in the Math test conducted by PISA, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. Singapore scores 2nd in terms of Math scores, behind none other than Chinese students. Interestingly, South Koreans are ranked 4th and they spend 2.9 hours on homework a week. PISA notes that the average amount of hours that students spend on homework do not relate to the school system’s overall performance, no thanks to systems like Korea’s.
Instead of doing homework after school, South Korean students go to cram schools known as hagwon. There they spend 8-9 hours a day studying in addition to what they already study in school, essentially meaning they don’t even have time to do homework in the first place. A common trend is for students to sleep in school during the day and then attend hagwon at night. Go figure.
When we look at Singapore’s education system and how reliant students are on tuition, the situation is hardly any different from China’s. It does not matter if a student is scoring well or not — they are likely to be attending tuition regardless, where they are given even more work to do, often drills upon endless drills of test papers.
Tuition is not a requirement, but it is seen as necessary for better grades and getting into better schools. If you’re poor, you have no choice but to get by with the school curriculum and your own extra effort, while the ones who can afford it get more and better tuition.
Regardless, the MOE does not think 9.4 hours a week is excessive, claiming that for 15-year-old students taking six to nine subjects, the numbers do not seem that overwhelming. They may even do more homework when exams are coming up. Given past complaints from parents about excessive homework from schools (the irony here is palpable when you note the reliance on tuition), the numbers are indeed lower than in the past.
However, evidence from PISA 2009 suggests that after around four hours of homework per week, the additional time spent on homework becomes negligible. So why are Singaporean students still assigned so much homework? That’s for the MOE to answer, and they are not changing their stance. For China and Singapore, quantity over quality is the key — but can the status quo be changed so that quality trumps quantity?
This story was written by Jonathan Yee.
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