Wednesday, December 05, 2012

France: M. Hollande's plan to ditch homework draws criticism

The latest revolt against France's aristocracy is all about ... homework.

President Francois Hollande, the socialist leader swept into office in May, has targeted homework as bestowing an unfair advantage on the rich, and his solution is to eliminate it for all elementary and junior high school students. But the plan is drawing criticism from the very folks it was supposed to help – poor people. And education experts aren't so keen on it either, saying underprivileged kids need the structure and purpose that homework provides.

"Poor people want homework because they know that school is very important, and the only chance — the only possibility — they have to give their children a better life is if their children succeed at school," Emmanuel Davidenkoff, editor-in-chief of L'Etudiant, a magazine and website devoted to French school and education, told NPR.

Hollande reasons that homework favors wealthy families because they are more likely to have the time and ability to support and supervise their children’s after-school efforts. The unorthodox plan is part of a bigger effort aimed at making primary and secondary school more enjoyable for children and comes as the country falls behind other industrialized nations – including the U.S. – in reading and science.

“Education is priority,” Hollande said in an October speech at Paris’s Sorbonne University. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

Students in France attend classes four days a week, but the school day is long and instruction is typically rote. French school is a grind, according to Peter Gumbel, author of a scathing book on the education system in France.

 "There's an enormous amount of pressure, and it's no fun whatsoever,” Gumbel said.

But simply surrendering the idea of homework may not be a good idea, according to some experts. Guy Winch, a psychologist who has written about homework in the American system recently wrote in Psychology Today that educators must strike a balance to ensure healthy childhood development.

“One easy guideline to keep in mind is that children should be assigned no more than 10 minutes a day of homework per grade level,” Winch wrote. “A sixth grader should be doing no more than an hour of homework a day, and a senior in high school should have no more than two hours a day of homework.”

Duke University Professor Harris Cooper, an expert on child development, told Hollande's plan is more likely to hurt poor kids than help them.

"Disadvantaged kids have fewer resources for learning outside school, so removing homework might actually widen the achievement gap, not narrow it," said Cooper, chairman of the school's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. "There are much better ways to close the achievement gap."


British maths pupils lag behind other countries 'because poor teachers don't have a proper grasp of the subject'

Who will teach a generation who were themselves badly taught?

Pupils are lagging behind in maths compared with other countries because not enough primary school teachers have a proper grasp of the subject, a report claims today.

There are too few mathematically competent teachers in primaries, with many achieving only a GCSE grade C.

The problem means thousands of pupils leave primary school without getting to grips with the basics, according to a report published by think-tank Politeia. The Government is introducing a new primary curriculum in 2014 in an effort to raise standards in English, maths and science.

But the report warns the main problem is the poor standard of teachers.  Countries which perform better in maths – including Finland, Japan and Singapore – have more mathematically competent teachers who ‘outperform British teachers in mathematics tests’, it claims.

The report is by David Burghes, who is professor of mathematics teaching at the University of Plymouth and director of the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching.

He said: ‘We have too few teachers at primary school with a real understanding of mathematics, leading to children not being fully extended; the pupils continue into the secondary stage, where there is a shortage of adequately trained mathematicians.

‘This results in not enough students in the sixth form taking mathematics and low numbers of students undertaking mathematics at universities.

‘The cycle continues with not enough mathematically well-qualified young people entering the teaching profession. A route must be found to break this sequence.’

The report adds: ‘It may seem easier (or provide quicker results) to concentrate on secondary school mathematics, but for long-term sustainable enhancement the aim must be to change primary mathematics.’

Professor Burghes welcomes some of the proposals in the Department for Education’s draft maths curriculum, such as early mastery of addition and subtraction.

However, he believes primary school pupils should master multiplication tables at a younger age and also learn algebra and probability.


Clash of British Leftists over access to elite universities

On this occasion I think Ebdon is right and Adonis is the dreamer

The Government’s access tsar faced calls to quit yesterday after he claimed it was ‘dreadful snobbery’ to make schools focus too much on elite universities.

Professor Les Ebdon said teenagers should not feel pressured to apply for the most academic courses when they might be better suited to an apprenticeship or vocational degree.

But his comments started a row with Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Adonis, warning he wasn’t sure if Professor Ebdon was ‘fit to hold his post’ as director of the Office for Fair Access.

Labour’s former schools minister, Lord Adonis, right, said the Professor should 'hand his job on to someone who actually believes in "fair access" to higher education'

He claimed Professor Ebdon should ‘hand his job on to someone who actually believes in “fair access” to higher education’.

Lord Adonis believes Professor Ebdon’s comments show a lack of commitment to his task of helping increase the number of pupils from state schools and poorer homes at the leading universities.

In a letter to the Times Education Supplement, he said: ‘I am not sure that Les Ebdon is fit to hold his post if he believes it is “dreadful snobbery” for schools to be encouraged to send as many pupils as possible to elite universities.

‘Does Professor Ebdon not direct an organisation called the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education?  ‘Is not one of its key purposes to help ensure that every teenager rises to their full potential, including the potential to go to an “elite university”?  ‘Is he therefore saying it is “snobbery” for this potential to be far better realised than at present?’

Lord Adonis added: ‘If Ebdon is saying these things, then he should hand his job on to someone who actually believes in “fair access” to higher education.’

Professor Ebdon made his controversial comments in a TES interview ten days ago.  He expressed dismay that society ‘really undervalues apprenticeships’ and engineering courses.

He said: ‘One of our problems is there’s such a dreadful snobbery about whether people go to university or which university they go to. I would hate to see that work through into undue pressure on schools.’ Professor Ebdon, the former vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, yesterday said his comments had been taken out of context by Lord Adonis.

His appointment to OFFA on September 1 was steeped in controversy, with a number of high-ranking MPs opposing the move.

Professor Ebdon had threatened to use the ‘nuclear option’ of financial penalties against universities that fail to widen their intake of disadvantaged students.

Leading independent schools, which dominate successful applicants to elite universities, have criticised some institutions for making lower offers to students from low performing schools – a policy backed by Professor Ebdon.

Chris Ramsey, headmaster of The King’s School in Chester and co-chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and Girls’ Schools Association’s universities’ committee, also attacked Professor Ebdon’s comments.  He said: ‘It seems to me that it isn’t snobbery to aim high.’


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