My father was furious with me every time he found that I had done my homework in a slipshod manner…

…he would yell: “Jeremy, I have told you a zillion times. Do you homework conscientiously!”

“All you want to do is to complete your homework. It does not matter how you do it so long as you finish your homework. This attitude stinks!”

“Do you know that you are supposed to do your homework meticulously so that you can learn from it? For this piece of work, shouldn’t you do some research first?” He would go on and on…

What could I do? It was not because of my poor work attitude. I understood what my father was trying to drive at and agreed with him strongly. However, it was beyond my control.

I had to hand in my homework in time or else… And there was so much to do and so little time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech, said: “We’ve got to teach less to our students so that they will learn more.”

I am sure that does not mean more homework. Give less homework and teach more effectively,” is what I would say.

If you ask any teacher, he, or she, will tell you that the homework given is reasonable and the time allocated is more than sufficient. Well, I will not deny that it is the truth…most of the time.

But sometimes, students have to complete 15 to 35 pages – no exaggeration – of the workbook just because they have some catching up to do before the examinations.

When that happens, my father would exclaims: “What? So many pages? Your teacher is mad!”

Five hours later, he would shake his head and say: “Not done yet? Your teacher is mad.”

Anyway, that is not the problem. The challenge for most students, if not all, is to complete homework assigned by five or six teachers on the same school day. If students have so much to do, the quality of work must suffer. Learning can be difficult as work is done perfunctorily to meet the deadline.

May I suggest this: Teachers should work out a schedule among themselves so that homework is evenly spread. This will alleviate the load for the day and allow students to submit a higher standard of work. The amount of homework should also be reduced especially for those that require research and thinking. This will allow the students to learn while doing their homework.

In so doing, learning can take place. Otherwise, they will just be running on a treadmill – doing a lot of work but not making any progress.

Besides giving less homework, I believe teaching effectively will also contribute to the learning process. Teaching less and teaching effectively are two different things.

Teaching less can be just like most relief teachers do. They come to the class and ask the students to do self-study or anything the students wish as long as they do not create a racket.

Teaching effectively requires teachers to adopt more unconventional teaching which make learning easy and enjoyable.

I attended a three-day course last year and thought I could not ‘survive’ it because the programme for each day was scheduled to last 13 hours!

It turned out to be a breeze for all the participants. The course was designed to make learning fun. Time just flew by while we were having fun.

The unique teaching styles adopted for the course included creative games which taught key learning points, captivating movie clips which drove home important messages and project work which required the applications of various concepts. Lectures were punctuated with lots of jokes and stories.

We stayed glued to the various activities. We were learning without knowing we were doing it. At the end of each day, notes and information booklets were given to us to help us reinforce what we had learnt.

I realise it will be hard work for teachers to use the innovative teaching ideas. However, it will be worth the effort as students will find learning enjoyable, easier and they will be able to absorb faster.

However, I am also aware that the responsibility of learning still rests on the students. Less homework will not result in more learning if they continue to do it sloppily and superficially. Better teaching methods will not help if students shut their minds.

This journal entry was published in TODAY on 8 September 2004