Last week, the government's decision to extend the summer vacation in schools due to excessive heat was a huge respite for many parents. The weather was certainly too hot and humid to ask Delhi's kids to resume their school routine. But their parents were more relived to have a few extra days to complete their children's holiday homework.
It is an annual summer ritual for many parents I know. Many cut short their vacation to finish the homework assigned to their wards by their respective schools. Many of those not on vacations take off from work to complete these daunting tasks.
A friend spent hours searching the net for details on life in Kenya to replicate it into a thermocol model. Another one was scanning science websites to scavenge data for his son's "monsoon mapping model". A couple of years ago, my cousin spent days to complete a project on the history of money for her third-grader. Her younger one, all of four, was asked to make blocks in the shapes of trees, fruits and numbers. She did some of the writing herself. The rest was farmed out to a
Getting such help is not difficult. Delhi and suburbs are awash with freelancers, science graduates, and those with an artistic bend, to do holiday projects for you. It is a mini industry. They advertise on the net, social networking sites and send out flyers to homes or just tie up with neighbourhood textbook shops.
You can pick up anything from a working model of the revolving solar system to a basic robot, or a readymade powerpoint presentation on any topic for a price, ranging from Rs. 250 to Rs. 1,500 depending on the complexity of the project.
Most schools issue warning to parents not to seek professional help for holiday homework but many parents find their kids' assignments beyond them. As for kids, most of these assignments are not age appropriate. How can a four-year-old, who is yet to handle scissors, be expected to cut out patterns for trees and fruits on thick cardboard? How can a seven-year-old be expected to surf the net, download material, analyse the information and prepare a project on the history of money?
At a time when the authorities are trying to de-stress student by rewiring the education system — 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 mindlessly assigning holiday homework.
Many believe, and rightly so, that homework is necessary to ensure retention of concepts over the long break from school.
Activity-based projects assigned to kids during holidays can encourage fruitful interaction among the parents and the wards. But nobody except for those "homework uncles and aunties" stands to gain if the projects are just too intimidating.
Frankly, holidays are for having fun when children get the opportunity to spend quality time with their parents and grandparents. So far I am concerned, the best holiday project assigned to children would be to ask them to maintain vacation diaries, maybe in the form of a workbook.
A number of schools that encourage such simplicity find that children love to log their stories on their own and often turn out to be surprisingly original and creative.
It all changes though the moment we demand grave annals of daunting activities from those pages.
The little ones can seek extraordinary satisfaction from the apparently mundane. That is the magic of a child's world. Is not education all about building on that spontaneity?