Organisation of Homework: Malaysian Teachers' Practices and Perspectives
ABSTRACT In 2004, the Malaysian Ministry of Education, issued a new circular on homework with the aim of providing some structure to the organisation of homework in Malaysian schools. Therefore this study set out to explore teachers' practices and perspectives on the organization of homework in Malaysian public primary schools. The study comprised 297 teachers from 17 primary schools located in Malaysia. The data collection process included the use of a questionnaire, semi structured interviews and document analyses. The findings of the study revealed that teachers view homework favourably and see it as an important aspect in consolidating and extending upon classroom learning. Teachers claimed they distributed homework evenly but findings revealed that there has no concerted effort in planning homework for each level. Teachers were also seen assigning more practice based tasks leaving little room for preparation and extension activities and other fun and engaging real life learning experiences. Though school administrators ensured teachers promptly marked and assessed pupils' homework the implementation of homework practices and teachers' adherence to guidelines provided left much to be desired. Arguably, the findings of this study cast doubts as to the effectiveness of teachers' practices in the organisation of homework in the Malaysian classrooms.
© Research Journal of Internatıonal Studıes - Issue 13 (March, 2010) 63
Organisation of Homework: Malaysian Teachers’ Practices and
Gurnam Kaur Sidhu
Faculty of Education, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia
Chan Yuen Fook
Faculty of Education, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia
In 2004, the Malaysian Ministry of Education, issued a new circular on homework with the
aim of providing some structure to the organisation of homework in Malaysian schools.
Therefore this study set out to explore teachers’ practices and perspectives on the
organization of homework in Malaysian public primary schools. The study comprised 297
teachers from 17 primary schools located in Malaysia. The data collection process included
the use of a questionnaire, semi structured interviews and document analyses. The findings
of the study revealed that teachers view homework favourably and see it as an important
aspect in consolidating and extending upon classroom learning. Teachers claimed they
distributed homework evenly but findings revealed that there has no concerted effort in
planning homework for each level. Teachers were also seen assigning more practice based
tasks leaving little room for preparation and extension activities and other fun and engaging
real life learning experiences. Though school administrators ensured teachers promptly
marked and assessed pupils’ homework the implementation of homework practices and
teachers’ adherence to guidelines provided left much to be desired. Arguably, the findings
of this study cast doubts as to the effectiveness of teachers’ practices in the organisation of
homework in the Malaysian classrooms.
Keywords: Homework Organisation, Homework Assignments, Teaching and Learning
Homework generally refers to tasks assigned to pupils by school teachers that are intended to be
carried out during nonschool hours. To this Butler (1987) adds that homework refers to time students
spend outside the classroom in assigned activities to practice, reinforce or apply newly-acquired skills
and knowledge. More importantly it also helps pupils develop the necessary skills of independent
study. In Malaysia, homework became an issue of wide public concern in 2004 when Carr-Gregg
published his findings in a local daily (The New Straits Times, July 30, 2004, p. 2) highlighting that
Malaysian students spend more time on homework compared to their counterparts in other countries.
The Malaysian students were said to spend an average of 3.8 hours a day compared to Singapore (3.5),
Russia (3.1), Australia & Canada (2.2) and Japan (1.7). This report further led to more public
discussions and debates on other related aspects of homework such as the benefits of homework, the
types of homework assignments and even the frequency and feedback on homework. What is most
interesting was the fact that the articles published in the local dailies sparked a nation wide concern
over homework in Malaysian schools and everyone ranging from politicians and parents to
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educationists held wide and differing views. Some felt that teachers were giving too much homework
due to a lack of effective co-ordination among various subject teachers while others declared that some
homework assignments given by teachers were rather pointless and mind-numbing. Yet there were
others who felt that the amount of time spent on homework should be better utilised doing activities
that engage the minds of children in meaningful learning.
The matter was investigated by the Ministry of Education and consequently a new curricular on
homework referred to as Surat Pekeliling Ikhtisas Bil 12/2004. Garis Panduan Umum Pemberian
Kerja Rumah kepada Murid Sekolah was issued on 31 December 2004 (Ministry of Education, 2004).
The circular highlighted the objective and importance of homework and put forward three aspects of
the organisation of homework in Malaysian public schools–i.e. the planning, implementation and
monitoring. Furthermore, teachers were reminded to use their discretion when giving homework taking
into account factors such as amount, type, frequency, level of difficulty and students abilities. Teachers
were also advised to think carefully before assigning homework because spot checks would be
conducted by the state and federal Inspectorate Division to ensure schools’ adherence to the given
guidelines. Henceforth school management and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) were encouraged
to set up their own mechanisms to ensure effective implementation and monitoring of homework in
schools such as requiring subject teachers to display homework given to each class. The Minister of
Education emphasized that the “guidelines must be strictly adhered to and not treated as mere rhetoric
and a cosmetic move.” (The Star, 2005, p.2). He further pointed out that homework should be fun and
teachers must plan it well so that students are not over burdened with excessive and unnecessary
homework. Even the former director of schools, (The Star, 2005, p.2) added that homework should be
a beneficial activity and he advised that the school curriculum committee plan the amount of
homework to be given and use a homework record booklet as a tracking mechanisms for both teachers
and parents alike.
2. Literature Review
Homework has always been associated with schools and it is part of students’ and teachers’ workload.
The basic purposes of assigning homework to students are the same as schooling in general, i.e. to
increase the knowledge and improve the abilities and skills of the student. Epstein (1983) summarizes
the following as the seven purposes of homework: for further practice, increased participation in the
learning process, personal development of the student, enhancing parent-child relations, effective
implementation of homework policy, improved public relationship and as a form of punishment (p.
27). In another article, Epstein, & Van Voorhis, (2001) suggested nine purposes that teachers should
consider in preparing and presenting homework to the students. First, students should understand that
homework is a valuable part of schooling. Second, homework allows students to practice what they
have learned in class besides extending as well as strengthening their work done in class. Thirdly,
homework trains the students to plan and organize their time properly. Besides that, homework also
helps students to develop a range of skills in identifying and using information resources. Other than
that, it establishes good study habits, helps students to focus and concentrate and develops self
discipline within students. Furthermore homework strengthens the links between homes and schools
other than provide parents with insight into what is being taught in the classroom as well as their
children’s progress in school. From these links, homework also helps to reaffirm the role of parents as
partners in education where teachers and parents will help each other in discussing the problem arising
regarding their children’s homework. Lastly, the most important thing is homework could provide
some challenges to the students especially to the gifted and talented students. Needlmen, (2001) adds
that homework may be intended to develop students in the traits of independence, responsibility, self-
motivation, and self-discipline. More specifically, homework assignments may be designed to
reinforce what students have already learned, prepare them for upcoming (or complex or difficult)
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lessons, extend what they know by having them apply it to new situations, or to integrate their abilities
by applying many different skills to a single task
Numerous studies conducted by researchers (Cooper, 1989; Betts, 1996; Cooper, Jackson &
Nye, 2001; Dandy & Nettelbeck, 2002) note that the effect of homework on student achievement has
been a debatable issue since the beginning of the twentieth century and continue well into the twenty-
first century. Therefore it is not surprising that public attitude towards homework has been shifting
from positive to negative and vice versa over the past twenty years or so. For instance, Cooper et al.,
(1998) conducted an extensive meta-analysis of research of close to 120 empirical studies of
homework and the characteristics of successful homework assignments. The findings from the study
revealed that an average high school student in a class doing homework would outperform 75% of the
students in a no-homework class. In junior high school, the average homework effect was half this
magnitude. In elementary school, homework had very little effect on achievement gains. Walberg,
Paschal and Weinstein (1985) contend that homework is beneficial because it extends the school day.
They hypothesize that if typical American students added four hours of homework per week to 30
nominal hours of school work, they would have added 13 percent to their nominal learning time in
school they however stress that one thing widely recognized about effective schooling is that “time-on-
task” predicts how much is learned and add that though time is by no means the only ingredient of
learning, without it, little can be learned (Walberg, Paschal & Weinstein, 1985). Hughes &
Greenhough (2002) further call attention to the fact that it is not the quantity of homework that
determines the contribution to learning but the nature and quality of the homework assignments that
determines the educational value of homework.
On the other hand, there is also no denying that homework has had its equal share of negative
connotations. Painter (1999) make the salient point that both teachers and students are known to just
‘glaze over’ homework assignments and for some they are just going through the motion. Critics of
homework say that too much of homework overburdens children and can adversely affect a child's
development by cutting in on leisure time and creating tension in the home. Cooper (1989) reiterates
that sometimes homework is the culprit of both physical and emotional stress as too much homework is
counteractive and can result in students’ loss of interest in academic materials and for some students
being forced to complete homework leads to more cheating. Widdup, (2008) reported in The London
Evening Standard that Ofsted inspectors in the UK noted that extra evening homework made learning
depressing for children and they highlight that students must have more recreational time to watch
educational television programmes, listen to music, play games or focus on other extra-curricular
Kralovec and Buell (2001) refer to homework as a “black hole” highlighting that homework is
of little value and should be eliminated as reviews of research on homework often contradict each
other, and most researchers now concede that homework does not improve academic achievement for
elementary students. They also point out that the trouble with existing research is that it focuses too
narrowly on academic achievements and ignores the context of students’ home lives and family
relationships. Silvis (2002) further reiterates that students must balance family time with parents’ work
demands or family responsibilities, such as care for siblings or work to contribute to the family’s
income. Other students have extracurricular activities or just prefer time to dawdle and dream.
Furthermore, the notion that homework develops traits like self-discipline and time management lacks
solid evidence, and parents are asked to take on faith the idea that homework can instil these desirable
character traits (Kralovec & Buell, 2001).
Schools in developed countries like the UK and the USA are now cutting down on homework
and some are even looking into abolishing it altogether. Keates (2007) reported that in the UK schools
are looking into their homework policies by limiting the amount of homework or eliminating it
altogether in lower grades as several new books and studies have documented the negative effects of
too much homework and found no corresponding improvement in academic performance. The deputy
general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in the UK, Martin Johnson, (Widdup,
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2008) has called for an end to homework in primary schools and a scaling-back at secondary level. He
said homework had been "mindlessly lauded by successive governments and pushy parents" and some
homework assignments are ‘mechanistic and repetitive’ discouraging ‘free range research’ and
‘independent learning skills’ which today’s global markets are looking for.
Keates (2007) stresses that all these have brought about a sea of change and educationists like
Denise Pope from Stanford University and the director of SOS (Stressed Out Students) notes that
homework is a key component of stress among school students. Therefore he recommends that
students be given fewer problems for homework if there is an overlap of exercises teachers should give
pupils the freedom to choose which problems to review, rather than assign all "drill and kill" problems.
He also encourages teachers to mix exercises that “force students to think at a higher level."
Adding on to this discourse, Sullivan and Sequeira (1996) urge teachers to consider the
following factors when assigning homework to their classes: i.e. age of students, community and
family needs, and school goals. They also offer these time guidelines to consider for different grade
levels. Students in Grades 1 to 3 should have one to three assignments per week, each taking 15
minutes. Those in Grades 4 to 6 should have two to four assignments per week, requiring 15-45
minutes each. Students in Grades 7 to 9 should have three to five assignments per week, lasting 45-75
minutes each, and those in Grades 10-12 should have four to five assignments per week, requiring 75-
120 minutes each. Another research conducted by Cooper (2007) put forward the "10-minute rule"- i.e.
assigning 10-minutes of homework per day per grade-level. Under this system, 1st-graders would
receive 10-minutes of homework per night, while 5th-graders would get 50-minutes worth, 9th-graders
90-minutes of homework.`
Furthermore, Marzano, Pickering & Pollock (2001) recommend that the amount of homework
assigned should be different from elementary school to middle school to high school. Many national
groups of teachers and parents, including the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of United
States, suggest that homework for children in kindergarten through second grade is most effective
when it does not exceed 10-20 minutes each day. In third through sixth grade, children can benefit
from 30-60 minutes of homework per day. For these young children, research shows that shorter and
more frequent assignments may be more effective than longer but fewer assignments. This is because
young children have short spans of attention and need to feel they have successfully completed a task.
Junior high and high school students can benefit from more time on homework, and the amount may
vary from night to night. Reading at home is especially important for young children. High-interest
reading assignments might push the time on homework a bit beyond the minutes suggested above.
These recommendations are consistent with the conclusions reached by many studies (Butler, 1987;
Cooper, 2000; Cooper, 2006; BBC, 2007; Duke, 2007) on the effectiveness of homework for older and
younger children. Cooper (as cited in Silvis, 2002) offers the following tips for teachers to consider
when assigning homework:
1. Give the right amount of homework. Students should get about 10 minutes of homework
each night for each grade. Do not overload them.
2. Keep parents informed. Let them know the purpose of homework and the class rules
regarding it. Communicate clearly that homework is an important bridge between home and
3. Vary the kinds of homework given. Practice the skills learned, but also assign activities that
apply the learned skills.
4. Be careful about parent involvement. Consider the time and resources of the parents.
5. Never give homework as punishment. This implies that the teacher thinks schoolwork is
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3. The Study
Within the Malaysian context, since the implementation of the 2004 guidelines on homework by the
Ministry of Education, there has not been a holistic study on the organization of homework. There has
been only one study by North and Pillay (2002) which explored homework assignments in 88
Malaysian secondary schools in the English language classrooms. The results showed a mismatch
between expectations of both teachers and students. This current study however looks into the
teachers’ perspectives and practices in the organisation of homework in Malaysian primary classrooms.
The study explored various aspects of the organisation of homework such as teachers’ purpose for
assigning homework, the types, frequency and amount of homework teachers assigned to pupils and
the overall management of homework.
The subjects of the study comprised 297 primary school teachers from 17 schools located in the
following six states in Peninsular Malaysia – Kelantan, Terengganu, Melaka Selangor, Pulau Pinang
and Negeri Sembilan. The 17 schools in this study comprised 13 National Primary Schools (herein
referred to as SK - Sekolah Kebangsaan) and four (4) National Type Chinese Schools (herein referred
to as SJKC - Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan Cina). The study involved the use of three main instruments–
i.e. questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and document analysis. In this study the Teacher
Questionnaire was divided into four main sections – i.e. Section A, Section B, Section C and Section
D. Section A investigated respondents’ demographic profile whilst Section B looked into the
organization of homework where respondents were required to indicate their responses based on a
four-point Likert scale, i.e. 1 = Strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = agree and 4 = strongly disagree.
Section C consisting of 16 items, explored teachers’ overall perceptions of homework and Section D
consisted of 6 open ended questions. The Teacher Questionnaire revealed a high (.91) Cronbach Alpha
Reliability. Interviews were also conducted to triangulate data collected from the questionnaire. In each
selected state, 4 teachers (2 Primary Three and 2 Primary Five) were interviewed. The teachers were
teaching the following subjects: Bahasa Malaysia, English, Science, Math or Mandarin. Document
analysis looked into the homework diaries and books of Primary Three and Primary Five pupils for the
five core subjects tested for the Year Six UPSR Examination (Bahasa Malaysia, English, Science,
Math and Mandarin).
All the instruments were pilot tested before the actual field work was carried out. The pilot test
was carried out in a primary school in Shah Alam by using a homogeneous group of respondents as
identified in the real study. Quantitative data was analysed by using SPSS package (version 14.0) to
calculate percentages, means and standard deviations while the qualitative data was analysed both
inductively and deductively to identify the main themes that emerged based on the research questions
posed in this study.
4. Findings and Discussions
The study involved a total of 297 teachers of which 77.2% were females while the remaining 22.8%
were males. A majority (46.1%) of the respondents’ age ranged from 30-39 years old whilst 24.9%
were below the 40-49 years old age range. Besides that, 33.3% of the teacher respondents possess an
SPM/MCE qualification while 29.7% were Diploma holders. With regard to experience, the data
indicated that 83.3% of the respondents have had more than five years teaching experience therefore
categorizing them as quite knowledgeable in their profession and suitable candidates for this study.
4.1. Importance of Homework
One of the main questions put forward to teachers was their opinion on homework. All the teachers
interviewed viewed homework in a positive and favourable light. They all agreed that homework was
an important component in classroom learning and should not be abolished. They highlighted that
homework was seen as an extension of classroom learning and it gave pupils the chance to consolidate
classroom learning. Teachers stressed that homework also gave them the chance to extend upon