Learning at Home1 Jan 2012
If conventional schooling falls short of your expectations, take matters into your own hands and homeschool. Find out what it entails.
Homeschooling has been on the rise in Malaysia with hundreds of families opting to homeschool their children instead of sending them to regular schools. Reasons for doing so were once typically related to parents wanting a religious education for their kids or because it suited their nomadic lives.
Today’s reasons, however, run the range from being dissatisfied over the standards of public or international schools, desiring a more holistic and individual approach to their child’s education, or simply wanting to spend more time with their kids and to not miss out on those small but pivotal moments in their lives.
Homeschooling has also been seen as a solution to schoolbased complications like bullying and disciplinary problems. It’s a good remedy for children with special learning needs too.
The most obvious merit of this type of education though, is that kids get 100 per cent focused attention through tailor-made lessons delivered with – what else – love.
For Alicia Ling Horsley, the grounds for homeschooling were quality and pragmatism. ‘I think that the level of public education is deplorable and international schools are very expensive.
For that kind of money (international school fees), I could have a university graduate come and teach my kids or I could take them all around the world,’ she argues. As it turns out, she’s opted for neither and home schools her three kids - Bern (8 years), Katelin (6 years) and Cian (4 years) - herself.
They were sent to preschool up to the ages of 4 for a taste of the school environment and a shot at socializing with peers their age, but Alicia is now the head honcho in her kids’ education. What also sealed the deal for homeschooling, she adds, wascontrol over value systems.
She’d heard horror stories about kids in certain schooling environments and didn’t want her children to be influenced by others or to be lavished gratuitous praise by teachers that didn’t really care. This decision is paying off, as Alicia is personally on hand to see her children progress at each step.
‘I genuinely am proud when they figure something out,’ she gushes, adding that the best thing about homeschooling is seeing her three little ones bond. ‘They get along, they love each other, they help each other, they cooperate and I really enjoy seeing this.’
No need to go alone
Whilst the rewards of homeschooling do sound enticing, taking on the task of being your child’s primary educator is no walk in the park. There are lessons to plan each day, syllabi to study and a lot of time needs to be invested in supervising your child’s academic journey.
The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are centres with the right expertise to assist you with the task. Hils Learning in Mont Kiara offer homeschooling services that encompass areas like addressing special needs requirements, advising on the choice of accredited homeschooling programmes, and even exam supervision.
This type of aid arguably injects a good dose of formal education into your family’s homeschooling environment, which is crucial as one of the main criticisms directed at homeschooling is the lack of structure it can entail.
And ask yourself these questions too: Are you the most qualified person to teach your child? Will you be able to explain that nagging algebra problem? Or do you have the confidence to trawl through history books and deliver compelling lessons that your child will soak up like a sponge? Don’t be too proud to enlist the help of professional teachers.
Ultimately, they have years of experience under their belt, and their input would strike a good balance to your child’s homeschooling programme. Another disadvantage of homeschooling is that your child will miss out on extra-curricular activities that promote well rounded personal growth.
Your home ostensibly won’t have the facilities of an award-winning school, so do consider finding extra-curricular activities or clubs and societies to complement your child’s homeschooling education.
Centres like Grace Homeschooling Resource Centre offers facilities in Petaling Jaya, Klang and Rawang and activities that complement parents’ homeschooling efforts - excursions, debates and family sports days, for example.
They don’t actually have teachers on hand, but they do have supervisors to children with their studies and also professional sports coaches on hand to train children in various areas. After-school classes in a variety of areas (see Learning Begins with Play p57) could also be considered.
Finally, homeschooling draws a lot of flak in that it is seen as an isolating environment where children aren’t given the shot at bonding with peers their age. And worse, as a homeschooling parent, you’re likely to be fielding off a horde of negative comments from others.
One solution to this is to get some support from others who’ve already trodden down this path. Develop your own support network, so to speak. Alicia remembers that friends played a crucial role in the early days and were a crucial support system.
‘The two (Malaysian) homeschoolers before me were a lot older, so I really relied on my friends in the US and Australia to help me keep the faith,’ she remembers. Do the same and seek out friends that can help, or make new ones.
The Internet - social media, in particular - has made it easier for homeschooling parents to connect with each other and there are many families blogging about their own experiences and communities that you can get in touch with, such as the Malaysian Homeschooling Network (MHsN).
Use these platforms to create a network for yourself so you don’t have to tackle those day-to-day homeschooling conundrums alone, and also use it as a social tool so your kids won’t be going it alone either.
What’s out there
Homeschooling gives you autonomy with the choice of syllabus for your child. There are various programmes and teaching materials available (both in print and audio) and many can be purchased or accessed on the Internet.
Alicia does have a word of caution with regards to material for young learners though: it’s important to vet the quality of material, as there’s a lot of poor-quality freebies on the internet. Pick materials that you feel your child will benefit most from.
And for older children, considered structured homeschool programmes. Christian-based textbooks are in abundance. Alpha Omega Publications, for instance, produce textbooks that your child can use.
In a similar vein, Dalat (who have an international school in Penang) offer an online accredited course, replicating the exact structure of a high school diploma but enabling students to study from home; graduating from Dalat Online is akin to being awarded a Dalat International School diploma and holds the same privileges as the face-to-face diploma.
Transcripts from high school level courses like these can then be submitted along with SAT scores to gain access to American universities. Getting hold of British school materials isn’t difficult with online book retailers a mouse-click away.
When the time comes for your child to sit for examinations, get in touch with the British Council. They’re a registered University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) centre, which means homeschooled kids can take British school exams like IGCSE and GCE A’Levels as independent candidates.
Alicia’s kids aren’t facing this yet, but their mum already has a plan for when the time draws near: ‘I don’t use a programme yet, but the plan is that when they are 10 and they can direct themselves a bit better, I’ll sit down with them and discuss the options.’
This sums up the very spirit of homeschooling – it’s liberal, the decision-making process isn’t one-sided, and the quality time and bonding between parent and child are immeasurable
Ask yourself whether homeschooling really suits you and your family. Remember that committing to a homeschooling programme means you’ll have less time for yourself and that planning your child’s daily schedule requires ample preparation and commitment. Half-baked efforts mean your child’s education suffers.
Get in touch with veteran homeschoolers or other parents before committing to this mode of schooling. Address any concerns you may have and don’t hold back on any questions – you want to be as prepared as you can be on this journey.
Many homeschooling families have been keen to share their experiences via blogs or dedicated homeschooling websites.
Get online and get connected. You’ll find lots of ideas for your own lesson plans and it’s a good way to connect with other families in the same boat. You may also find yourself purchasing a lot of your educational supplies and from online stores.
Don’t underestimate the amount of work that goes into homeschooling – it’s akin to a fulltime job and this may mean that you have to give up yours.
Speak with your partner and come up with a solution that fits your family. If you can’t afford to live on a singleincome but still want the option of homeschooling, then seek out a learning centre that can assist with your child’s education.
Do the math
Homeschooling will incur some costs. Books, for example, are typically very expensive and you’ll also need to invest in learning materials for subjects like science and art.
Things you should know
The Malaysian government demands compulsory attendance for all children between the ages of six to 11. If you’d like to homeschool your child between these ages, then you’ll need to apply for official exception.
The application process, sadly, isn’t that easy and there’ll be a couple of hoops to jump through. Furthermore, there may be routine visits from ministry officials, so talk to other parents who have undergone the process if you want a first-hand account of what the process entails. And do your research, as procedures and legalities may vary depending on your nationality.