Method to the 'madness'

Kooky, off-the-wall, downright crazy—home schoolers have been labelled this and worse. Yet they say there is method behind their ‘madness”. Some even believe that their model is the future model for education globally.

There are about 50 000 registered learners in South Africa who receive a home education. Most parents, though, simply want to educate their children in what they believe is their best interest. It may be a wish to emphasise religion, or to nurture children with health or learning problems. There are also those who feel that the education system’s standards are simply not up to scratch.

But there are also those few who choose home schooling because they oppose the transformation in South African schools. Another sinister aspect is that, because it isn’t well monitored by the authorities, home schooling can make children more vulnerable to abuse.

But home schoolers, such as Adele Breedt of the Eastern Cape Home School Association (ECHSA), have no regrets.

‘I could change my baby’s nappy and raise my child, so why couldn’t I also educate my child? For me, home schooling is just goal-oriented parenting,” says Breedt.

Through the years, Breedt has seen home schooling grow in popularity and deliver enormous benefits. She says families speak of greater closeness and children who are socially well adjusted and perform well academically.

Despite this, home schooling has not been fully supported by the state. And many home schoolers, says Breedt, are frustrated by a lack of engagement with the government and the complicated registration process. This includes keeping an attendance record and portfolio, and committing to a minimum of three hours of contact learning per school day. One condition also calls for the education to be ‘consistent with the values contained in the Constitution”.

It is this last requirement to which Leendert van Oostrum, who heads up the Pestalozzi trust, a legal defence fund for home schoolers, most objects. He believes that home school is tolerated only because external pressure from United States aid donors put pressure on the democratic government to permit this schooling alternative shortly after 1994. Van Oostrum is troubled by what he calls the government’s insistence on the ‘creation of the one [kind of] South African citizen”, which he says, is at odds with rights enshrined in the Constitution and democratic principles such as respecting diversity.

But Lucy Moyane, chief director of curriculum and assessment development in the Department of Education (DoE), disagrees that the regulations are overly prescriptive. ‘School attendance is compulsory and the government is obliged to develop and produce a particular kind of learner as directed by the Constitution,” she says.

Moyane believes home education is a valid alternative for parents, although she stresses that regulation and merit-based, case-by-case approval is vital to ensure that the system is managed properly.

‘Registration of home education means that we will be able to monitor and track learners more effectively. It also makes it much easier for those families when their children go into tertiary education or if their conditions change and they go back into mainstream schooling,” says Moyane.

Many parents, however, say that the state needs to get its act together. Breedt, for example, says that the DoE does not respond to parents and is not forthcoming in helping them to become legally compliant. As a result many parents operate without the registration certificate.

And despite Moyane’s claim that officials monitor home schoolers, many parents say this simply does not take place.

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