Monday, January 03, 2011

It pays to do your homework

Sydney - The better academic performance of Chinese-background pupils in Australia is a result of their adopted routine towards homework, the amount of time they spend on it as well as the place where they study.

Australian researchers who sought to examine why primary school pupils of Mandarin-, Cantonese- and Vietnamese- speaking backgrounds outperform their Anglo-Australian and Pacific Islander counterparts have found that these Asian pupils had a 'very different' approach to completing their homework.

The researchers also found that children from each of the different groups received different degrees of supervision from their parents.

The government-funded study, conducted in New South Wales (NSW), found that children of Chinese background spent more time on their homework on a regular basis. They also preferred to work at a desk in their bedroom or study room.

'The Chinese pupils... had a more routine approach to this work, developing a discipline of independent study,' observed the researchers from the University of Western Sydney's centre for cultural research.

On the other hand, pupils of Anglo-Australian and Pacific Islander backgrounds worked on their homework in a more public area, such as a kitchen or lounge room.

Pacific Islander children tended to do their homework in front of the television set and, if they worked in their bedroom, they would prefer to use their bed rather than a desk.

The researchers found that pupils of Chinese background spent about an hour each night on homework, compared with Anglo-Australian children - who spent 20 minutes on some nights - and Pacific Islander children - who spent about 10 minutes on two or three nights.

Chinese-background children, even those of lower socio-economic status, also tended to be more involved in extra-curricular activities such as music and sports.

'There is a large percentage of Chinese-background children who do exceptionally well in NSW schools,' said Dr Megan Watkins, lead author of the study.

'There may be a stronger emphasis in Chinese families on academic achievement and that may affect practices at home,' she told The Sunday Times.

'Homework is habit-forming and if you do not develop it very early on, you may not be able to develop it in the later years... By looking at culture as a set of practices, it gives you a point of intervention.'

She and co-author Greg Noble, an associate professor, surveyed 469 parents of eight- to nine-year-olds, examined the habits of the children, made classroom observations as well as interviewed family members, principals and teachers.

They also did in-depth research on three sets of children from each of the different backgrounds.

Dr Watkins said the study showed the need for the government to encourage greater parental awareness about the ways to approach homework.

'A lot of parents, particularly the Pacific Islander parents, do not really understand the role of homework and the importance of doing it,' she said. 'Often, when the children leave school, that is the end of their schooling for the day.'

The research demonstrated that academic success was not 'natural' to particular cultures, but that some ethnicities adopted practices that get better outcomes, it concluded.

'We need to rethink notions of homework and the way in which parents are inducted into the kinds of practices that are important to succeed in the Australian education system,' Dr Watkins said.

'It is important that when new parents of backgrounds other than English enrol their kids, they are made aware of what they need to do.'

She recently presented her findings to the NSW Department of Education. Its director- general of education Michael Coutts-Trotter said the research would help to develop professional education and development programmes for school principals and teachers.

'Successful students see homework as a daily routine,' Mr Coutts-Trotter told The Sydney Morning Herald.

'They have a desk of their own and a school and family that help them develop scholarly routines. Visiting libraries regularly is another thing successful students do.'