Rethinking Homework: An Examination of Its Origins, Impact, and…

Written By: Sebastian Vaderaa Age 14 Sign my Petition

In this report, I will assess why homework as a system is flawed and should be abandoned, the flaws in “Closed-Book” Exams, and how Ireland should strive for the “Scandinavian Model.”

Where and why was homework invented?

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment survey, Irish 15-year-olds do almost five and a half hours of English, maths and science homework a week. They also spend more hours in grinds, with about 40 percent getting private tuition. Between 15 and 25 percent hold down a part-time job, and one in four are regularly involved in sport.” ⑴

Homework as a system is flawed. In the early 19th century, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, a well-known German philosopher and father of German nationalism, created the system of modern homework. You see, in 1814, Prussia had a serious problem. Instead of people serving the country following a war, many conscripts and soldiers would retire back into civilian life. It all came from one root problem: Prussian citizens didn’t feel loyalty to the state; there wasn’t a sense of pride or national identity. 

Fichte looked to change this, and so he set out on conceiving the “Volksschule,” or “People’s School”, later morphing into the “Elementary School” and the “Realschule,”   – “secondary school” (available to German aristocrats). In these schools, alongside basic subjects, a large emphasis was placed on Prussian glory and national identity as a whole. Homework was meant to foster these ideals, but why does this matter? Well, “Volksschule” spread rapidly across Germany. But in some schools, instead of homework being mandatory, it was a punishment. Students who underperformed or didn’t pay attention in class would be punished by being given “homework,”, but those who performed well wouldn’t be given homework. So when Horace Mann reformed the American education system by following the Prussian model, he removed the “punishment” and kept the old Prussian nationalistic model (but for America). Horaces method spread rapidly across the world, and thus homework was invented. ⑵

Homework is, by nature, a propaganda tool. It was created in the industrial age to promote nationalism and keep citizens and soldiers loyal to the state. And while the system has changed, homework still represents the worst in the school system. 

Instead of promoting people’s interests, like sports or learning new things, it forces them to sit down for 2–5 hours a day to complete a meaningless assignment that, most of the time, isn’t corrected or doesn’t matter. It degrades the experience of school, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many, even our president. To whomever is reading this, it should have been a wake-up call that the most beloved person in this country, and our president, thinks the system is flawed. 

I, like many students in my age range, am interested in sports. Every day, I enjoy cycling for 30 minutes to an hour. However, in primary school, I used to play outside with my friends, be it soccer or a game of hide and seek. This changed significantly when I entered first year (I’m going into third year now) due to the increased amount of homework and study time. We wake up at 7-8 am, spend 6 hours in school, and then dedicate an additional 2–5 hours to homework. That amounts to 8–11 hours a day of school-related work. Usually, we return from school around 4 p.m., so by the time we complete our work, it’s between 6 and 9 p.m. This schedule leaves no time for extracurricular activities, causing some students to skip homework. However, not doing homework results in punishment, forcing us to choose between an academic life and a healthy life.

In my opinion, this contributes significantly to the rising rates of childhood obesity not only in Ireland but also worldwide. To be successful, students feel compelled to abandon extracurricular activities and focus solely on school. Although students can perform well without doing homework, it remains a mandatory requirement.

Homeworks impact on class-time learning

I don’t know about other schools in Ireland, but I think it’s safe to say that for most schools, homework impacts our time to learn. In my school, we have 40 minutes per subject. We take 5 minutes to get to class, set up our desks and have our roll call. Our teachers then have to correct our homework. That can take up to 2–20 minutes. In both cases, it impacts the students negatively. If a teacher spends 2 minutes correcting homework, those students who spend hours on it aren’t rewarded for their effort, and it affects their attitude towards the school as a whole. On the other hand, if the homework is always corrected quickly, there’s an incentive to not do the homework without consequences. 

But if a teacher takes 20 minutes to correct homework, there are 15 minutes to teach the lesson. And most of the time, teachers give homework five minutes before the end of class, and everybody packs up after that. So that’s 10 minutes of class time. Does that sound like a lot of time to you? No? Because it isn’t. How is a student meant to learn these subjects if they only spend 10 minutes on them? 

Sure, for topics like history or geography where most of your information is in a book, it’s easy to just leave homework, correct it, and leave the core points to be taught in class, but that just creates a cycle of “Hey, we have 10 minutes left in class; I’ll teach you the core topics, and you learn the rest for homework alongside questions 1–10.” But then correcting that work takes so long that it’s just a cycle of necessity for homework, and if a student doesn’t choose to do the homework, they miss out on necessary work, something they should’ve learned in school. 

But for topics like math, science, and Irish in particular, a subject that is taught very poorly and thus hated by many, it is necessary to learn this in class. You can’t pick up a book and learn how to do complex maths formulas, learn a language, or do an experiment. It’s simply impossible, and oftentimes, it’s these necessary subjects where students get the most and spend the most time on homework. So how is a teacher supposed to teach the Pythagorean Theorem or Quantum Entanglement when they have no time in class to learn the topic?

Study time and Closed-Book Exams

Homework is represented in multiple forms. It can be in question style, reading, or “study time”. But what is “study”? Study is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the activity of learning or gaining knowledge, either from books or by examining things in the world”. By definition, school subjects are “studies” in the specific subject. So the fixation on designated “study time” doesn’t make sense. If schools have properly done their job, and if homework as a system works as an effective way to “study” these topics, then students shouldn’t have to study before exams. ⑶

A student’s academic knowledge is best tested in classroom-based assessments. In these assessments, students are challenged to research and build a presentation based on specific parameters. These “CBAs” prepare students for future jobs where they will have to build presentations. CBAs are a much better way to examine and improve a student’s capabilities for future positions. But replacing tests completely is impossible. That’s why I think that the teacher unions are correct in advocating for “open book” exams. In life, you’re not going to be tested without any resources at your disposal; you will have a computer, a book, and co-workers you can ask. 

Doctors collaborate to diagnose patients, scientists work together to discover cures, and athletes rely on teams and coaches. So why does the school operate differently? Why are students assessed on their ability to write and answer questions about topics when real-life situations are much different? Once secondary school is over, there is little need to remember all the information learned. In fact, it is said that students forget 95% of the information they learn in school⑹ . Clearly, this system does not effectively reinforce a person’s knowledge of a subject. If it did, students would have retained the information from class, eliminating the need for “study” time before exams.

It all stems from one problem: closed-book exams. These exams necessitate memorizing large amounts of information (most of which you don’t even use in the exam), which does not promote effective styles of learning. The emphasis on learning these large chunks leads to a prioritization of recalling short-term information over deeper comprehension of a subject. If you asked a student a week after exams finished about who brought weapons for the rising on the Aud, I guarantee that most students, who are already interested in the subject, couldn’t answer it. As a consequence, students will concentrate more on absorbing information solely for a test than truly engaging with the material and honing critical thinking skills.

We live in the age of information and technology. You have thousands of records at your fingertips, so memorising subjects isn’t exactly necessary. What you will have to do in life is create presentations and articles. This is where I hone back on my point about CBA’s. It is a tragedy that we are taking less focus from CBA’s to promote exams, CBA’s oftentimes incorporate teamwork, communication and critical thinking, encouraging students to actively engage with the subject matter. They are also more enjoyable, and shift the focus from memorization to understanding. It fosters development of real-life skills which are applicable in real-life situations. They improve a students public speaking ability, something oftentimes seriously neglected as well as promoting persuasion skills. When in life will I be getting an exam about history, never. When in life will I get a task to formulate a report or presentation? Always. Even in college.

Scandinavian Model

The education systems in Scandinavia, and particularly Finland, are among the best in the world, if not the best, I believe we can all agree on that. Everyone accepts this as the truth on a global scale, so if the Scandinavians can have quality education, why don’t we as a nation? There are no standardised tests and no homework in Finland, the country with the best education system. Finland prioritises students’ attachment to and perception of schools as a safe, learning environment. Since 1980, all schools have provided free school lunches (no problem here), free and easy access to healthcare, a focus on mental health through counselling and therapy, and easily accessible guidance. 

Education in Finland focuses on creating an atmosphere of “social equality, happiness, and harmony” to make learning more enjoyable. It sounds good, and it must be effective. Finland has the highest happiness and some of the lowest stress levels in the world; is it really that difficult to simply replicate the Scandinavian model of education if it works so well? ⑷ ⑸


But for topics like math, science, and Irish in particular, a subject that is taught very poorly and thus hated by many, it is necessary to learn this in class. You can’t pick up a book and learn how to do complex maths formulas, learn a language, or do an experiment. It’s simply impossible, and oftentimes, it’s these necessary subjects where students get the most and spend the most time on homework. So how is a teacher supposed to teach the Pythagorean Theorem or Quantum Entanglement when they have no time in class to learn the topic?