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A lesson in dishonesty: inventing and outsourcing homework

Schools are loading children with homework and parents are making it worse by outsourcing tasks that are meant to develop independent learning skills, writes Shivani Singh.

columns Updated: May 26, 2014 12:10 IST
Shivani Singh

Last summer, my friend decided to give her seven-year-old a lesson in self-reliance. She insisted her daughter complete her holiday project all by herself. She was there to help--got her the material, offered guidance with the internet research and also checked if she got her concepts right. The girl was hoping to turn in a decent project.

But she came home all teary-eyed after the first day back to school. Most children submitted projects of professional quality while hers looked amateurish. "If you can't make it for me, let’s just buy a project like others do," she told her mother.

Completing their children's holiday homework is an annual summer ritual for many parents I know. They take off from work or cut short their vacations to complete their kids’ holiday projects. Many sheepishly tell you how it is more convenient to just "buy" homework.

There are enough freelancers, college students and homemakers to do holiday projects for you. In fact, it is a mini cottage industry in Delhi and suburbs. These "homework makers" advertise on the internet, social networking sites and send out flyers to homes or just tie up with neighbourhood textbook shops.

Last week, Hindustan Times reported how Delhi’s schoolchildren were shopping for homework online. The advertising portals offered deals with taglines such as “Leave Holiday Homework Worries. Get Holiday Homework for all classes done by Experts” and “School Projects and Chart papers without your mother getting disturbed (sic).”

For Rs. 250-2,000, you can pick up anything from a revolving solar system, a model of a human body, weather systems, plant experiments to collages on wildlife, climate change, people and places; or a readymade PowerPoint presentation on any topic for a price. They even provide book reports, articles and poems at competitive rates.

Most schools issue warning to parents against seeking professional help for holiday homework. Some even threaten to give negative marks if such projects are found to be done by anyone else but the student. But some of these assignments are not age appropriate. How can a four-year-old, who is yet to handle scissors, be expected to make complicated photo frames? Or a seven-year-old make accurate model of a monument in Delhi, with only eco-friendly materials? In fact, even parents often struggle with their kids’ assignments.

At a time when the authorities have tried to de-stress students by making Class X board exams optional and introducing Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation pattern that aims to shift focus from testing memory alone to judging a range of abilities such as imagination and creativity, it is surprising that few talk about the practice of holiday homework.

Experts believe that holiday homework is necessary to ensure retention of concepts over the long break from school. Activity-based projects assigned to kids during holidays can encourage productive interaction among the parents and the children. But nobody except for those "homework makers" stands to gain if the projects are just too intimidating.

But if schools are loading children with age-inappropriate homework, parents are making it worse by outsourcing something that is meant to develop their ward's independent learning skills. This is an early lesson in dishonesty. Lying to her teacher and friends that she did the project herself also teaches her that money can buy anything.

Instead, parents could suggest projects that would interest their wards. For this, they need to open communication channels with the school. The best holiday homework is what stokes the imagination in young minds. Why not simply ask the children to maintain vacation diaries, and maybe also prepare a scrapbook of all the activities. They don’t need help with logging their own stories which, say schools that encourage such simplicity, often turn out to be surprisingly original and creative.