What a wonderful morning - checking one of my favorite news blogs, Steve Gilliard's News Blog, and finding this article about homework in the US. The mother is really upset that her 7 year old has an hour of homework a night - and that it is homework in which parents are supposed to "help" (she listed a project in which you could tell the parent was going to do everything).
I laughed at the thought of 1 hour of homework being considered a bad thing for a 7 year old, because in Egypt a kid is VERY lucky at that age if he/she does not have a lot more than that. But I agree that homework should be designed so that the kid can do it with a minimum of parental supervision and difficult projects should probably wait until kids are old enough to handle them without the parents basically doing the work for them.
In Egypt, the system is very heavy on rote learning, so that young kids are routinely given dictation tests (and therefore have to do dictation exercises with their parents every night). The system also teaches math a lot faster than the system I was raised in and gives a lot of homework. Most parents who can afford it (and actually, many parents that really can't) get private tutors to help kids in math and often in Arabic language, English as a second language, and any other subjects kids may have trouble in.
The system is also heavily based on regular testing, meaning that if kids are not doing actual homework (assignments that are written down and handed in) they are studying for a test. My two kids, who are now in the final year of middle school and the first year of secondary school, put away their novels, their computer games, their chess sets, and their sports equipment for the school year, and buckle down to studying until bedtime every night. They have a math tutor and an Arabic tutor (and this is after I spent years fighting this trend - and they are the only kids in the extended family who only have tutors in 2 subjects), who come twice a week each (meaning that there are lessons 4 nights out of 5). Their only studying-free time is their weekly visit to their grandmother's house, to which they do not take any school books. There, they are able to read their novels, watch TV, play soccer in the street, or go to an Internet cafe and play games.
I wish that the structure would allow kids more time to devote to out of school activities. I also wish that there were not so many tests and that there was less pressure on the kids to get high grades and more encouragement for them to learn interesting and useful things even if they weren't in the curriculum. Yet, given that some of their teachers are all too eager to introduce things I don't want them to learn (see my past post on the Arabic teacher's religious enthusiasm), I see that incremental changes in this system would simply not work.
It is sad to see that systems in the US, a country with infinitely more resources than Egypt to devote to education, are not all that much better than what kids face here. I wonder if the next generation will be able to confront the challenges past generations have created for them, given the abysmal, rote-based education foisted upon them.