1 Nigami

School Work Homework And Gender

Homework includes the set of prescribed tasks to students by teachers to be held outside school hours. Tutoring, preparation for tests and examinations, supervised study in school, correspondence study courses at home and extra-curricular activities such as sport, as well as study activities self-initiated by students, cannot be considered homework (Cooper, 2001). The positive effects of homework completion on students’ academic achievement across several subject matters have been demonstrated in a large number of studies (see, for example, the meta-analyses by Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006, and Fan, Xu, Cai, He, & Fan, 2017).

Homework not only contributes to academic performance, at a general or specific level (i.e. math/science), but has also been associated with the students’ self-regulation abilities. The relationship between the two variables can be understood in the light of the demands that students must deal with when doing their homework. The accomplishment of homework includes a sequential set of three phases. The first comprises the prescription of the work done by the teacher and takes place in the classroom, the second takes place outside the classroom and consists of the execution of the prescribed tasks, and the last phase occurs upon return of the student to the classroom, after the work is done (Cooper, 1989, 2001; Coulter, 1979; Rademacher, 2000). In the second stage, students are responsible for doing the work prescribed by their teachers and managing time, spaces and environments, and even for seeking help whenever needed (Cooper, 2001; Corno, 2000; Trautwein & Koller, 2003). They should also accomplish the tasks in time, control the possible internal and external distractors, decide which aids they will use and check if all the prescribed tasks are complete (Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001). Therefore, a successful homework completion demands self-regulation abilities, and some instruments that assess the self-regulatory components that are present during the execution of homework have been developed.

One of these instruments is the Homework Management Scale (Xu, 2008; Yang & Xu, 2015), which is a self-report measure for high school students composed of 22 items distributed by five subscales: arranging environment, managing time, handling distraction, monitoring motivation and controlling emotion. Studies with American (Xu, 2008) and Chinese (Yang & Xu, 2015) samples of 11th graders demonstrated adequate reliability. In both samples, confirmatory factor analysis results provided empirical evidence for the five-factor structure. Although invariance of this structure was demonstrated across calibration and validation samples (Xu, 2008), no invariance studies were conducted considering variables that play a role on self-regulation, such as gender. Studies focusing on gender differences in self-regulated learning found that girls are more self-regulated than boys (Xu & Corno, 2006), spend more time doing homework (Rosário, Mourão, Núñez, González-Pienda, & Valle, 2006), do a better behaviour regulation (Weis, Heikamp, & Trommsdorff, 2013) and take more initiative to manage their homework (Xu & Wu, 2013).

Another instrument that includes an assessment of the homework self-regulation components is the Self-Assessment Questionnaire: Homework (SAQ; Hong, Peng, & Rowell, 2009). The SAQ is composed of 34 items that measure homework utility value and intrinsic value (dimensions related with the task value), effort and persistence (dimensions related with the motivational outcome) and the planning and self-checking applied during the homework process (dimensions related with the metacognitive strategy use). Hong, Peng, and Rowell (2009) administered the SAQ to groups of 7th and 11th graders and found grade-level differences in the scores of the six SAQ dimensions, with the second group obtaining significantly lower scores than the first. They concluded, as a consequence, that “older Chinese students perceived homework as less useful, enjoyed doing homework less, expended less effort, persisted less, and engaged in planning and self-checking less than did younger students” (Hong et al., 2009, p. 274). In the same study, no gender differences were found. Nonetheless, no evidence for the grade and gender measurement invariance of the SAQ was provided, which is essential to guarantee the validity of these findings.

The Homework Distraction Scale (HDS; Xu, 2015) assesses one specific aspect of self-regulation in homework completion: the (in)ability to suppress distractors and maintain the attention in the homework task. The HDS is composed of six items that the students must rate using a Likert-type scale and that are organized into two dimensions: (a) conventional distraction (e.g. Start conversations unrelated to what I’m doing) and (b) tech-related distraction (e.g. Stop math homework to play online games or video games). Xu, Fan, and Du (2015) tested the two-factor structure and its measurement invariance across gender using a sample of 796 Chinese 8th graders. They found evidence for the existence of metric invariance between boys and girls. However, given that scalar invariance was not tested, no mean comparisons between both gender groups were performed.

As a summary, these instruments measure distinct self-regulation abilities during homework completion and have been developed to assess middle and high school students, probably mirroring the fact that most of the research on homework completion and its related variables is conducted at these stages (e.g. Iflazoglu & Hong, 2012; Lau, Kitsantas, & Miller, 2015; Lee, Lee, & Bong, 2014; Núñez et al., 2015; Regueiro, Suárez, Valle, Núñez, & Rosário, 2015; Valle et al., 2016; Xu, 2011; Xu & Wu, 2013; Yang & Xu, 2015). The development of scales that evaluate self-regulation of homework behaviours in younger children remains an important research issue. Moreover, all of the reviewed instruments are self-report measures and, as Xu (2008) indicates, “there is a need to incorporate other measures of homework behaviors over time (e.g., student’s homework behaviors as recorded and perceived by their teachers and their parents) to complement students’ self-reports” (p. 320) in order to have a more complete and reliable understanding of this issue.

The Homework Behavior Questionnaire (Ktpc) was developed to assess self-regulation abilities in homework completion but focus homework as a sequential process that involves self-regulatory skills. Homework models (Cooper, 2001; Corno, 2000; Coulter, 1979; Rademacher, 2000), as well as Zimmerman’s (2000) cyclical model of self-regulated learning, were used to guide the development of the Ktpc. The questionnaire is centred in the homework’s second phase, which corresponds to assignment execution, which usually occurs at home or in community contexts (Cooper, 2001; Coulter, 1979; Rademacher, 2000). Therefore, the Ktpc was developed in order to measure the processes, beliefs and behaviours that tend to occur during three steps: homework planning, execution and evaluation. Moreover, the questionnaire was developed to assess the behaviours of students from different educational levels—elementary school (grades 1–4) and the first cycle of middle school (grades 5–6)1—based on the information provided by the students’ parents or other tutors. Given that the factor structure of the Ktpc was not previously tested using confirmatory factor analysis, the first two goals of this study were to test the fit of the theoretical model to the data and to investigate the reliability of the scores obtained in the Ktpc.

As was previously referred, research has found consistent differences between girls and boys in the self-regulation abilities. Therefore, it is crucial to check the measurement invariance of any instrument that focuses on these abilities so that meaningful comparisons can be performed between male and female students. In the studies of the previous referred instruments that measure homework self-regulation components (Hong et al., 2009; Xu, 2008; Xu, 2015; Yang & Xu, 2015), this was not examined. Similarly, given that research found that older students are less self-regulated during homework completion (Hong et al., 2009) and that Ktpc was developed to assess children who attend two different educational levels, measurement invariance across these levels must also be guaranteed. Therefore, the third goal of this study was to investigate the measurement invariance of the Ktpc as a function of gender and educational level. Only after guaranteeing measurement invariance, meaningful group comparisons using the Ktpc can be performed.

Hence, the research questions of this study were as follows: (a) Does a multidimensional structure composed of three factors—planning, execution and evaluation—fit the data obtained in the Ktpc? (b) Are the scores of the Ktpc reliable? and (c) Is the factor structure invariant between boys and girls and between students from elementary and middle schools?

Gender roles are often the reason girls drop out of school in South Sudan. We produce radio show 'Our School' to amplify issues and barriers to girls education across the country so they can be discussed and overcome. Our editor shares a very unusual story of a young boy turning the tables on gender stereotypes.

"Yes, I help my sister sometimes in sweeping, washing utensils and even sometimes we cook together" says Emmanuel happily, while busy doing some chores at his home in Juba.

He's speaking with producer Florence Michael for radio programme 'Our School', the interview is for an episode exploring gender roles and how they differ for boys and girls - both at home and at school.

"It helps us if we work together then we shall do the work quickly and then we go to read. Even if we are given exams we shall then perform well," he said.

But Emmanuel's story is uncommon. Many people in South Sudan believe a girl should be doing the domestic chores such as cooking, fetching water and collecting firewood whilst the boys look after the animals, go hunting or build huts. These attitudes originate from beliefs that women are weak and men strong - and these roles defined by gender are entrenched beyond the home and even into schools.

Emmanuel's mother, Doruka says she appreciates that her son does chores which are traditionally given to girls to do. "My son Emmanuel likes helping his sisters with work at home and even me his mother. He sweeps, even washes utensils, he cooks too and they do their work equally."

She goes on to stress why her children sharing the chores is beneficial, saying "they work equally, it means they all get time for their studies. This makes his sisters very happy that they are not being discriminated against."

She told our producer she brought up and taught her children to work together from early childhood and hopes more is also done by schools to ensure tasks given to girls and boys are divided equally, and not decided by gender.

In some schools girls are often pulled from class to assist with jobs, such as making breakfast or lunch for teachers or fetching water while boys stay in lessons or play.

Challenging discrimination in schools

In the same episode, we interviewed Head Teacher, Sipura Kiden in Juba who says she now assigns the same tasks to pupils at her school regardless of gender. "During the hot days we ask boys and girls to dig the holes for the iron poles for the sunshades, so that people can sit under shade. The pupils - both boys and girls - dig the holes" she says.

In Yambio, when we aired a programme in Zande language about girls being called out of the classroom to cook (whilst others remain in the lesson), a male school teacher called into the show saying "it is totally wrong to send a pupil to the kitchen while you are teaching others in the class, if I want to give work to students it will be when there is no lesson because all of them paid to come and learn."

On behalf of teachers he continued to have his say "I am appealing to school administrations for equality in the schools, if there is work to be done it should be given to both boys and girls.''

It was rewarding that our programmes are inspiring support for change by showing listeners how people like Sipura and Emmanuel are challenging gender norms - and leading by example to bring about positive change.

Pressing for progress

After this show I spoke with Florence about growing up in South Sudan and the impact of gender discrimination on her life. She described gunshots at her school, the fear of attending and the social and cultural norms which all stack against girls completing their education. In her childhood, she said she was doing all the work "meant for girls" and her brothers did the work "meant for boys".

She said it was refreshing to help listeners connect with a young (and male!) role model, who broke the mould. "I've been inspired by some men and boys who do share work equally with their wives or sisters to make sure that girls are not overworked and can study," she says.

Through 'Our School' we're reaching many different girls, some who have dropped out of school, but decided to return because they now understand the importance of education after listening to the programme. I'm happy that Emmanuel's story helped people hear about the issues girls face from a different perspective - and show how and why change is a good thing whatever your gender.

 

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'Our School' - funded by DFID through the Girls' Education South Sudan (GESS) project is produced by team of local producers and broadcasts in nine languages.

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