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The homeschooling debate


By Janelle Riley-Thornhill

The report that an increasing number of parents in this country are seeking to homeschool their children is not at all surprising. However, some persons expressed confusion about this admission from an official of the Ministry of Education recently, because of the high standard of education we afford our children at the nursery, primary and secondary levels.

We in Barbados think of homeschooling as an activity that occurs only in North American countries or perhaps further afield, and cannot imagine why in a country that offers free education to all school aged children, a parent would want to take on the responsibility of teaching their child. It is a question I used to ask myself some years ago, until I recognised that the school environment of today is much more explosive than it was just a few decades ago. The media coverage here and abroad about bullying, teasing as well as physical and emotional abuse in public schools is abundant, and it could make a parent want to protect their children from that bad environment.

Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling and if it is an area that is gaining currency in this country, the relevant authorities will need to do some probing to ensure that parents are giving their children instruction in the right manner, and are not in fact putting their children at a disadvantage. It will no doubt require that officials of the Ministry of Education create measures to guide parents opting to go this route, and by extension require them to visit these homes to observe what is being done.

Indeed, if homeschooling is really on the rise, Government may have to seek parliamentary approval to institute laws and regulations to govern this method of teaching. I am not sure if this is already the case, but I believe that it would serve the State well to treat homeschooling as a type of private school and require that they meet the same standards as those registered facilities. Some parents may see this as an invasion of their privacy and an intrusion, but the State has a responsibility to ensure that all children living in this country are properly educated.

I make that point because teachers specialise in specific subject areas and if parents choose to homeschool their children, it is expected that they would have vast knowledge of each subject area which they choose to teach their children.

Research in the United States has shown that homeschooling is growing at a rate of seven to 15 per cent per year, with millions of children currently learning at home. Additionally, it is said that homeschooled children do well on standardised tests, and as adults, are known to be self-directed learners and reliable employees.

On the other hand, as a family member recently pointed out to me, by homeschooling children we could be stunting the development of their socialisation skills. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility and the onus would have to be on the parents to ensure that does not happen. It would require that they make certain that their children are given opportunities to interact with and form lasting relationships with other children in their age group, and this is can achieved by exposing them to extracurricular activities.

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