Australian children among the world's 'most stressed' about homework

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Australian children feel more stressed about homework during the middle years of school than children in most other parts of the developed world, and this stress may be responsible for increased levels of anxiety and psychosomatic health complaints among children.

The National Child and Youth Report Card released last month by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) found Australia ranked 24th in a comparison of 26 OECD countries in the area of "school pressure", with Year 8 girls suffering the most.

According to the report, 55 per cent of girls in Year 8 were most likely to feel "some or a lot of pressure from homework", while 47.1 per cent of Year 8 boys reported feeling pressure about homework.

Of the Year 6 girls, 34.2 per cent reported feeling some or a lot of pressure from homework while the figure was 33.3 per cent for Year 6 boys.

The report quoted data collected by researchers from Flinders University of South Australia, The University of NSW and the Australian Council for Educational Research as part of the Australian Child Wellbeing Project, which included a national survey of 5400 students in Years 4, 6 and 8.

Among the key findings of the project's final report was that Australian boys and girls experienced "higher levels of pressure from schoolwork than boys and girls in most other developed countries".

"More than half of all participants reported doing homework 'every day or almost every day' at all year levels," the report said.

It also found: "School pressure is closely associated with psychosomatic health complaints, especially among girls".

Australian Institute of Family Studies research previously found children as young as 10 were spending almost two hours a week on homework that did not involve a computer, with girls devoting about 15 minutes more a week to homework than boys.

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Girls spent an additional 30 minutes a week using a compute for homework, while boys spent an extra 20 minutes, the research found.

Homework has long been the subject of debate in Australia, with a number of studies finding it can actually be detrimental to a child's learning and mental health. One study even found a link between homework and levels of anxiety, depression, anger and other mood disorders.

While it is common for students as young as six to be given regular written homework, schools such as Montessori, have embraced a no formal homework policy.

The Montessori teaching principle instead recommends primary-school aged children carry out "meaningful tasks that are an extension of a child's interests". 

"This work … should have a purpose [and] can include a variety of activities, including household chores [which] can help the child develop language skills, cultural awareness ... and give the child a voice in family decisions," the Montessori Australia website states.

The website says 'homework' should consist of real-life activities that are of interest to the child or help them bond with their parents, such as writing a story or letter, visiting the library, reading aloud, scanning newspapers for stories, drawing, doing simple science experiments, counting money, planning a shopping list or dinner menu, shopping for food, cooking, using a map, going on an outing or a walk, or playing music.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) runs the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. It also surveys students to gauge their wellbeing and includes the findings in a report.

The Students' Well-Being report released last year following a survey of 540,000 students aged 15 found Australian students suffered above-average levels of schoolwork-related anxiety.

According to the report, 67.5 per cent of Australian students felt very anxious before a test, even if they were well prepared, well above the OECD average of 55.5 per cent.

The report found 46.9 per cent of Australian students felt very tense when studying, compared with the OECD average of 36.6 per cent.