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Home Schooling in Australia

Home Schooling in Australia

On Sunday 11 March WA Mansans caught up to explore the concept of home schooling and its various pros and cons.

Akin to private tutoring, home schooling is when parents or guardians take on the responsibility to educate their child outside of a traditional school setting. There are a range of reasons why parents or guardians may choose to engage their child in home schooling, ranging from religious beliefs or the desire to deliver a superior education, to practical reasons such as compensating for a child with special needs or removing a child dealing with excessive bullying inherent in traditional schools. In order to home school your child, a parent or guardian needs to register them with the Department of Education whereupon they will be assigned a moderator who will approve the curriculum set by the parent or guardian.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, private schooling (a category that includes independent schools, Catholic schools and home schools) made up 34.4% of education in 2017. While the exact number of home schoolers is not known, Australia carries the reputation of being one of the mostpopular places to home school in the world according to sources like the Australian Christian Academy, a home schooling institution, and its popularity is estimated to be increasing.

Home schooling is supposed to follow a curriculum approved by a Department of Education moderator, however some home school educators may choose to teach by different, more flexible means to the same end. They may choose to unschool, a method of teaching where there is no formal structure provided and the education is focused on natural learning, designed to leverage the strengths and curiosity inherent in the child. An example provided was taking the student on a road trip where the student learns how to navigate using a map, learns about the local history and is shown how vehicles operate outside of a classroom setting.

Other methodologies include ‘schools without walls’, where there is less emphasis on books and more emphasis on free-roaming learning in nature, allowing children to find and follow their fascinations, learning through a method of co-enquiry. Another methodology is cooperative learning, a method based on Kogan structures, exercises designed to involve students more efficiently through interdisciplinary learning. These methodologies all claim to provide a better education than one found in traditional schools.

In areas where home schooling is popular, home educators are known to collectively organise and pool their resources in order to do things such as hiring a recreational centre for a day, where their children get together and learn sports and other subjects in a group setting. They may also seek out home educators who are experts in certain subjects, who will then teach the students collectively in an environment similar to a traditional school setting. This provides some of the advantages of traditional school environments whilst allowing the parents and guardians to maintain control over the curriculum.

Home schooling is often reported as being more efficient than a traditional schooling environment. Home educators often comment on how they cover a full year’s curriculum in a few months thanks to the extra time the individually-tailored educational experience provides. However, as the quality of a home schooled education depends largely on the educator, home schools have the potential to be both far superior or inferior compared to a traditional education. Whilst traditional schools cannot provide the same level of attention to the student as a home education due to their class sizes, and their teaching methods cannot be tailored to each individual student’s advantage, they do have the benefit of being a safer choice, effectively reverting the educational quality back to the mean.

Home schooling does not have to be a 13-year commitment. Some home educators choose to temporarily switch back to traditional schools in order to provide the student with the average experience, and others only choose to home school their children following a negative traditional school experience such as bullying or poor educational quality.

There are various concerns with home schooling that were discussed. One popular concern is the idea that the students will be poorly socialised. According to the evidence, this claim is not well supported. Home-schooled students often interact with people across a broader age range and are spared the negative social experiences common in traditional schools such as bullying. This results in the student picking up more mature social skills, with research showing that they are better able to find non-violent solutions to conflict situations. Being home schooled does not necessitate less contact with the outside world where these social skills are developed. Home-schooled children often still participate in extracurricular activities such as sport, army cadets or dancing. However, poor socialisation is still a possibility due to the independent nature of home schooling with its quality dependent on the home educator’s capabilities and there are also concerns that children home schooled may not develop the resilience to deal with bullying in the workplace.

Another concern raised is the poor ability to follow rules and structures due to the flexible nature of most home schooling. Home-schooled students who enter traditional school are known to experience difficulty coming inside when the bell rings as they are unaccustomed to following such rules and structures implemented to introduce children to work in a factory environment where lunch bells would signal break time and speaking amongst each other was discouraged as it distracted from manufacturing work. Modern work however focuses more on effective communication with other people, with lunch breaks and work tasks flexible in an office environment. This raises the question of whether home schooling may be more advantageous from a modern employment perspective.

The correlation between home schooling and runaways was also explored. Whilst there is not much available evidence on the matter. Mensans speculated that a home school student may be a higher runaway risk due to associating their issues more with their home setting since they spend more time in that particular environment. Mensans also explored if such a correlation could exist due to the perception that more extreme parents decide to home school.

It was explored if home schooling would be an advantage to those students interested in tertiary education. With lectures being available online and learning being conducted in a more individualised isolated setting, the educational experience at modern universities is becoming increasingly similar to home schooling. However, as there is no home educator present, there are concerns in universities that communicating solely in an online setting allows students to meticulously craft every response making it harder for them to think on their feet and adapt to making mistakes in the moment. It also deprives students of real human interactions, which can increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety as well as making it harder for educators to conduct welfare checks. If home-schooled students would deal with these conditions differently is not not known.

In Western Australia, the Department od Education estimates that it costs $10,000 per year to educate a primary school student and $16,000 to educate a secondary school student. Mensans explored the suggestion of providing an equivalent financial grant to home schoolers who take their children out of the traditional schooling environment in order to compensate them for the currently unpaid hours they dedicate to home schooling. There was a shared concern that such an allowance could incentivise abuse by those who register for the money alone so it was agreed that any such scheme would need to be highly regulated with restrictions and qualifications in order for it to be accountable. Home educators would also benefit from being more closely assisted by the Department of Education providing them resources and tailored support.

One idea foe ensuring accountability was to require all children to pass a standardised test by a certain age in order to be eligible for the funding and ensure home-schooled children aren’t being left behind, which is similar to the system currently deployed in countries like the People’s Replublic of China. However, susch a system may unfairly disadvantage students with learning disabilities who would otherwise not pass such a test even in traditional school environments. Another concern for such a grant was that it would take critical funding away from public schools which are a societal staple.

In conclusion, Mensans agreed there is a place for home schooling, acknowledging that the experience has the potential to be either superior or inferior compared to traditional schooling based on the quality and dedication of the educator. We agreed that building the resilience required to deal with bullying behaviour is an important life skill that children should not be denied, but acknowledged the advantages inherent in tailoring your child’s curriculum and providing them with your full attention. Currently, there is a financial barrier to home schooling as the home educator will be unable to perform paid work during those hours, which makes it unfeasable for some; however, with the changing nature of employment we may yet see the concept gain broader acceptance and popularity.

Jan Syrek

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