EVERY child learns differently. As more parents begin to take this into account, alternatives to the conventional schooling of children have begun to become more popular.
Parents want the best for their children and education is undoubtedly one of the biggest aspects of a child’s development.
Homeschooling has begun to figure more prominently among urban parents in the country.
As with any schooling system, there are advantages and disadvantages which must be taken into account by parents to ensure their children’s mental and emotional development needs are met.
Homeschooling was traditionally used as an alternative for children who were unable to follow the regular school system.
This was due to issues such as logistics — when children who were travelling or working as child actors needed to be on set while filming — or for those who needed specialised content or approach because of learning disabilities or illness.
This also includes gifted children who require an individualised input beyond the capabilities and needs of the common system.
Educational psychologist and head of department at HELP University Kenneth Phun says homeschooling is gaining more traction among parents.
Among the biggest benefits to homeschooling, according to Phun, is that it allows students to be largely independent and responsible for their learning progress, and also nurtures an appreciation for the many varied opportunities for learning which can take place anywhere and everywhere.
“For instance, homeschoolers and their parents have the chance to determine some aspects of their topics as long as they meet the criteria of a specific programme which they are adhering to.
“These qualities are the strong benefits of this approach to education, for it reduces the oft moaned lack of initiative attitude in students due to the spoon-feeding tendencies of the public school system,” he adds.
Licensed and registered counsellor Tan Su Chen believes that homeschooling provides freedom and autonomy in pursuing learning at the pace of the individual child, therefore setting up a learning environment which cultivates independence and confidence in children.
This aspect can often be neglected in the spoon-fed academic setting of the regular schooling system.
“Homeschooled children, on the other hand, are encouraged to express, discover, investigate and analyse, and this aids the development of confidence as these children begin to feel good about their ability to understand and learn on their own, despite the initial frustration and struggles,” she says.
She adds that these children would feel like “I may not understand this now, but if I put in some hours and effort into this subject (or exercise), I will be able to master it“.
“In this manner, homeschooled children may develop healthy self-esteem and self-worth, given appropriate guidance from parents who are nurturing as well as set healthy expectations,” Tan adds.
She says that despite not having sat examinations as compared to conventionally schooled children, homeschooled children can do well in standardised testing required for college and university entrance and success.
However, they sometimes will need to take additional examination preparation classes to help ready them for these tests.
Tan also believes that family relationships and parent-child bonds are fostered and improved when homeschooling.
“Studies have shown that homeschooling improves family relationships as children and parents spend more time together in a given day when homeschooled. Besides learning academics together, parents and children share activities such as art, music and sports.”
However, Phun cautions that a downside to homeschooling is that parents now need to play a more prominent role in the monitoring of their child’s education — from the selection of the syllabus and learning material, to even teaching the material themselves.
“This has resulted in one parent having to be a stay-at-home mum or dad, but this full-time involvement will be a challenging factor in families that require dual incomes to sustain them.”
To manoeuvre around this, some parents have enrolled their children in homeschooling learning centres that provide facilities such as a library, study desks and helpers who offer assistance when needed.
Social development of children is a major concern of parents who are considering homeschooling.
“The independence which homeschooling encourages results in homeschoolers who are largely studying separately from their peers, and as a result, may have limited socialisation opportunities compared to the exposure of a regular student studying in a public school system.
“While some people may see it as a blessing as this could lessen peer bullying, others may see this as limitation of interaction and engagement with other children,” says Phun.
Tan believes that it is possible for children who are homeschooled to become socially inept.
“While it is possible for children to learn values and soft skills such as sharing, caring, teamwork, empathy and altruism within the family context, it is undeniable that certain social skills such as making and maintaining friends ought to be developed with peers,” she says.
There is also concern about children’s inability to handle the “real world” of social cruelty such as peer pressure, bullying and social ostracism which they would face had they gone to school.
“Keeping this in mind, many homeschool parents I know maintain a close connection with a homeschool community whereby combined learning sessions and play dates take place weekly or monthly,” she adds.
She also cautions homeschooling parents to remind themselves to not hover over their child, but to allow him to learn and develop socially and emotionally, at his own pace, to make friends, mingle and play, fight and make-up, and problem-solve with friends, just as he would when approaching his academics.
Social interaction and development also include regular interaction with non-parent adults, which may include relatives, parents’ friends, other homeschooling parents, sports/art/music teacher, and community leaders.
“Intentional parents who are aware of their children’s need for social and emotional development are able to set up necessary and practical structures and arrangements to support their children’s growth,” says Tan.
Yet another disadvantage is the relatively high cost involved in preparing and maintaining the homeschooling approach.
Many of the materials for homeschoolers need to be sourced from the US or UK, and for those who are sent to homeschooling centres there are fees which may easily run from a few hundred ringgit, to more than a thousand a month.
“Granted that the cost may not be as high as the fees charged by an international school or even a private school that follows the local syllabus, but the cost will still be higher than that incurred by enrolling in a public school,” says Phun.
Another important consideration for the emotional development of homeschooling children is that of their parents’ emotional health.
“Raising children is not a walk in the park, and in addition to the typical duties of dad and mum, homeschool parents now take on an additional role as teacher, which can be stressful for some,” says Tan.
She adds it is crucial and necessary for homeschooling parents to maintain proper and consistent self-care, so that they are able to maintain their effectiveness in nurturing and raising their children in a calm, composed and confident manner.
“Having a homeschooling community where parents share resources or take turns to lead and facilitate activities will provide the much needed physical, emotional and practical support,” she adds.
Phun says that unless families have a very strong reason to support their choosing of the homeschooling option or are able to either have the extra time and/or financial resources, it may be more prudent for them to consider a school-based system, that suits their preferences and budgets.
At the end of the day, parents must take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of each schooling system, as well as the individual nature of their children to decide what will work for their child and family.
Homeschooled children may not get to take part in uniformed societies.
P.sharmini | firstname.lastname@example.org NST Channels Learning Curve 02/02/2014