Homeschooling and school at home

“There is no school equal to a decent home, and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent” – Mahatma Ghandi.

The issue of homeschooling has arisen again. This may be a deceptively complex issue which may not be receiving sufficient attention.

Homeschooling is not very popular in Barbados and has not been pursued as a common option here. It may not be too difficult to understand why this has been the case. Not too long ago the school was seen as an almost sacrosanct space and few would have thought of an alternative for the education of their children.

And then there is the other elephant in the room: most people did not have the skills to educate their children themselves and those who were competent to do so had to work so staying home was not a choice that was open to them.

There may be many reasons why parents decide to homeschool in modern times. One of them emerged in the most recent case to be publicly discussed. It has been reported that bullying was a factor which led the parent to pull her son out of the school he attended.

It must be difficult for a parent to be aware of his or her child being tortured in an unprotected environment and not consider how best the child may be shielded. Obtaining a transfer from one school to another is one option, but transfers may not always be easy to secure.

Further, there was a time when certain schools were held up as paragons of virtue. That is no longer the case, for we know that all of our schools are experiencing similar challenges where student behaviour is concerned. The biased reporting in the press which focuses on some schools and not on others does not paint a genuine picture of the entire school system.

In the highlighted case, it seems that the bullied child has been offered a place in a school for problem children. This could suggest that his new colleagues may be students with a history of bullying as well. This may be a “from the frying pan to the fire” story. What is a parent to do in these circumstances?

There are cultural groupings in our society that may feel that the traditional education system does not meet their needs. This explains the development of religious schools. These schools place emphasis on religious instruction without ignoring the academic curriculum set by the Ministry of Education.

Individuals that identify with particular groups with separation ideas, but do not have schools of instruction, may opt for homeschooling, even in cases where their children are not having difficulty at school. This is a right that is reserved to a parent.

“We’re not trying to do school at home. We’re trying to do homeschool. These are two entirely different propositions. We’re not trying to replicate the time, style, or content of the classroom. Rather we’re trying to cultivate a lifestyle of learning in which learning takes place from morning until bedtime, 7 days each week. The “formal” portion of each teaching day is just the tip of the iceberg.”

These words quoted from Steve and Jane Lambert, speak to a deliberate strategy to inculcate certain values in their children. They had no interest in replicating what existed at school. One wonders how much our Ministry of Education looks for replication rather than effectiveness of instruction and development.

There is a view that homeschooling may be restrictive and could stunt the social development of the child. This raises the question of whether homeschooling is suitable for one’s entire school life or should it be confined only to the primary years. If a child enters the school environment for the first time in secondary school, how would he or she cope in this aggressive space?

Homeschooling may be safe, but I have heard the opinion expressed that it could negatively affect a child’s communication skills as well as the ability to resolve conflict. In fact, lack of communication skills and conflict resolution may be connected. Leadership competence may also be retarded. Group interaction is a natural training ground in these areas and there may be no better field of training for growth in these capacities than the school environment.

As I understand it, parents who homeschool their children are required to follow a curriculum which is provided by the Ministry of Education. This in itself is not a bad thing. It demonstrates that the Ministry is seeking to ensure that children who remain outside of the school system are not disadvantaged in terms of the quality of the instruction they receive. Such children are not abandoned because they remain at home and out of the traditional classroom.

The Ministry takes seriously its responsibility of ensuring that its standards are adhered to by those who have responsibility for delivering instruction to the homeschooled children. This role is discharged by finding means of measuring the progress of children who are taught outside of the direct supervision of the Ministry’s teachers.

An important issue for consideration is the competence of instructors. In Barbados, most teachers have been exposed to some form of training and can boast of some qualification in the art of instruction. Most non-teaching parents are not so qualified. On the surface, this would seem to place children that are taught at home at a disadvantage.

But it is not just about instruction technique. There is a need for a parent to have an adequate knowledge of the subject being instructed. This really is ground zero – the starting point for all instruction. And given the varied curriculum which is taught in school, it would be important that the parent is well rounded academically.

Home instruction though, need not mean that only a parent can instruct. It may be possible that a parent is in a position to afford to pay for qualified teachers to come in and teach their children. However, this does not seem to be the usual case in Barbados.

The difficulty here is that there may be a challenge in striking the right balance between the needs of the parent and the child and the requirements of the Government. At the end of the day, both sides should be pursuing what is best for the child. Different perspectives may lead to disagreement on what is best for the child and how to achieve it. This could lead to the Government and the parents working at cross purposes, the fallout from which could create disruption in a child’s life.

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