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Starting in first grade, students are being taught that homework and class attendance are to be the corner nstones of becoming a successful student. This statement surely has a significant truth for students up until high school graduation, structure and some form of discipline are unavoidable for children and adolescents in this range of age. Going in to college, though, the rules are changing. Attending college is a voluntary decision, and students are now, according to the law, adults. In Sweden and some other European countries, this circumstantial change has led to changes in the college curricula.
Students no longer have compulsory homework or class attendance as course criteria. The major reasons for this change are the negative effects compulsory homework and class attendance have on study motivation students do not look at school work as an opportunity to become more knowledgeable and the inhibition of the on-going maturity process denying the students to learn to take responsibility without having someone watching them.
To reinforce these things study motivation and learning to take responsibility a system has been developed where students have the freedom to choose how they want to achieve the knowledge necessary to receive their desired grade. Homework and class attendance are not required. As a result of this, studying becomes more interesting, since a positive spin is put on it. Also, by leaving it up to the single student to do the work necessary, responsibility is developed. Comparing the American and the Swedish educational systems through research and personal experience, the conclusion is that compulsory homework and class attendance are not necessary in college due to inhibition of the students study motivation and on-going maturity process.
The theory that compulsory homework and class attendance have a negative effect on students is not an entirely new speculation. As early as 1950, the American Educational Research Association stated that compulsory homework does not result in sufficiently improved academic accomplishments to justify its retention (Otto 379). The statement does not mean that homework in itself is a waste of time. No, the emphasis is on something else.
When homework and class attendance are made compulsory, they put a negative spin on the whole process of learning. The intriguing reading about the battle of Gettysburg in the history class turns into an obstacle that has to be overcome, and the beautiful screen version of Shakespeares Much Ado About Nothing transforms into a gray, dull, everyday B-movie that has to be endured in order not to have too many absences on ones record. Another “subreason” to the same problem area is the repression of students’ possibilities to develop in other areas of their life educational or not. Olle Brunnblad touches upon this problem in his article A Comparison of Different Educational Systems. Proven knowledge should be accepted as enlightenment that no further practice is necessary. There is no sane reason for anyone who has demonstrated knowledge within an area to be forced to practice problems in the same.
This will only hinder the possibility to progress in other school subjects, since the time available obviously decreases. Also, students with two or more compulsory tasks to accomplish often choose to accomplish the one(s) they are most familiar with (Brunnblad 2). Thus, this inhibits overall academic progress. However, that is not the only this inhibits overall academic progress. However, that is not the only thing this affects. Students hoping for careers outside the ones originating from academic education (i.e. athletes, musicians, etc.), suffer from the consequences compulsory homework and class attendance cause. Even if test scores and other measurements of knowledge show that needed level of knowledge exists, the student still needs to put in time and energy to accomplish homework tasks and attend lectures in order not to bring down the grade or possibly even fail out of a course. This definitely obstruct their possibilities to succeed in the areas of their lives in which they most want to. The other major reason for questioning the presence of compulsory homework and attendance is the inhibition they have on the on-going maturity process, refusing students to learn to take responsibility for getting things done without having someone watching over them. For many students, going to college means moving away from their parents for the first time.
They now have to rely on themselves; no one is any longer there to make sure that things get done. Johan Gustavsson calls this change the step into adulthood in his book The Educational Reformation (38). The importance this has on the development of maturity and personality is indisputable. By assigning compulsory homework and requiring students to go to class, the teachers only substitute for parents as spy eyes and thereby inhibit this vital process. Part of taking responsibility is the ability to be able to discern what has to be done and what does not, and what is important and what is not. Telling students what has to be done and what is important, compulsory homework and class attendance do not reinforce this maturity process. So, what are the solutions to the problems compulsory homework and class attendance cause?
Should college students just be let loose without anyone giving them any restrictions of what needs to be done? No, the solution is a little bit more intricate than that. Looking at the Swedish university system gives the answers. At the end of each course, the students somehow have to exemplify knowledge of all content dealt with during the course. Depending on the teacher, this knowledge presentation can take different forms, most of the time through a written or oral final exam or through a thorough research paper. This final test of knowledge has to be passed in order to pass the course. Throughout the course, another 3-4 tests are being offered; however, they are most of the time not required. Only looked upon as buffers, they offer possibilities to add points to the final score. This means that a student who fails all these buffer-tests but passes the final test passes the course, since he/she thereby shows that the required level of knowledge finally is achieved. Of course, this educational system has possible downsides. There would hypothetically be a greater risk of lower grades for students and more dropouts (thus a lower level of achieved knowledge), since the temptation to skip class to play a round of golf or just stay in bed for one more hour gets too strong. However, research comparing the two educational systems touched upon in this context actually shows the opposite (Brunnblad 5). Another argument might be the risk of procrastinating schoolwork beyond the breaking point, leaving students banging their heads bloody against the wall trying to catch up with a whole semester of coursework over the last week before finals.
No research was found that neither supported nor rejected this theory. However, if the argument indeed was found to be true, it does not necessarily mean that it comes out bad for the student in the long run. Having experienced a scenario as described above, the student would probably not let it happen again. There is definitely an important lesson learned, and is that not what school is all about learning things?! The first major advantage of this educational system is the freedom it supplies. Except for the final test, no schoolwork (e.g. homework and class attendance) is compulsory, leaving it up to the student to design the schoolwork schedule. This freedom of choice makes it possible to have every students individual demands on how he/she best achieves knowledge met, instead of having the teacherstudent-method as the only application for learning. Research show that students in Swedish universities find university studies more interesting, appealing, and joyful than students in American universities, mostly because of benefits this freedom of choice supplies (Gustavsson 56-57). The other major advantage this educational system provides is the reinforcement of personal responsibility.
The freedom of being able to choose a personally suitable way of achieving knowledge leaves it pretty much all up to the student to make it to the goal line. No one is there to push by assigning work that has to be turned in and lectures that have to be attended. This puts a lot of pressure on the students, making them responsible for doing the necessary work without having someone watching over them. A harsh situation one might think, and surely there are students not being able to handle the situation this puts them in. However, according to Brunnblad, the best way of learning to take responsibility is through personal troubles due to lack of responsibility. Going to college entails changed conditions. Students are no longer children being in school because they have to but adults attending because of a voluntary decision. These new conditions could be used as a basis for some changes in the college curricula. Research suggests that compulsory homework and class attendance severely affect the study motivation and the opportunity to develop a greater sense of responsibility. Trying to force students to walk on the way to Knowledge, compulsory homework and class attendance only clip off the students wings, hindering them from flying there. If instead, as Swedish universities have discovered, students are given the freedom to choose how they want to achieve their desired knowledge, a positive spin is put on studying, and responsibility is reinforced. Like the mother bird shoves the nestling out of the nest in order to make the young bird fly, this educational system does the same, making students realize that they have wings.
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