Homework is the bane of all students’ existence, and something they’ve tried to get out of more than once. Almost no one likes doing it, so who invented homework in the first place, and why?
It’s almost universally acknowledged that Roberto Nevilis was the first to issue homework to his students. He was teaching in Venice around 1095. However, he may not have been the actual first teacher to use it.
As long as there’s been education, there’s probably been homework. Experts agree that teachers in Ancient Rome almost certainly handed out homework to their students. There’s even evidence that it was given out in Ancient Rome. Quintilian, the teacher of Pliny the Younger, mentions homework in his works on education. There’s even been stone tablets uncovered that show assignments from teachers.
Today’s students will be surprised that homework used to be frowned upon, especially in the United States. This was because before the Second World War, children were needed to help out with chores around the home. Being given homework meant they weren’t available to complete essential tasks for their parents. It was so frowned upon, in fact, that a law passed in California in 1901 banned all homework for kindergartners all the way up to eighth graders.
The reason this changed was because of the Cold War in the 1950’s. There was a need for more highly educated students, especially those in the sciences. Homework was again assigned to help bring them up to speed on the essential subjects. Of course, the 1950’s saw a lot of societal upheaval after the World Wars. Children were no longer expected to work, and the family unit again became close knit as the fathers came back home. Ever since then, homework has been a staple of the education system.
So, did Nevilis know what he was doing when he started the tradition of homework, all those years ago? He probably didn’t expect today’s students to be carrying such a heavy workload home with them. Today’s children are doing two hours of homework a week, compared to the 44 minutes they would do in 1981.
Do children need to be doing homework at all? Opinion is divided, depending on which country you live in. People who want to abolish homework point to Finland, where homework never happens. They have a high school graduation rate of 93%, as opposed to 73% in the US. Two out of three students go on to college, too.
Whether homework is helpful or not, for now at least it’s here to stay. It’s a concept that has survived centuries in the educational world, and is known to help learning in some cases. It’s no consolation to students though, who need to finish their math problems before they can go play.