Although controversial, many agree it gives the parents greater control. MH looks at the advantages of homeschooling and what parents should know before taking this route.
WORDS SIEW MEI FONG
With compulsory primary school education in Singapore, going to school is the norm among kids here. Despite this, homeschooling is possible and more parents seem to be looking at it. However, unlike the United States where the number of homeschoolers has swelled over the years, homeschoolers still form a small minority here. After all, homeschooling can be said to be fairly recent, for it was only in 2008 when the first batch of 31 homeschoolers took the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE).
That said; awareness of homeschooling and interest in it has certainly been growing.
Families decide to homeschool their children for various reasons. Some parents, like Mrs M. Lim, a mother of four, feel strongly about inculcating the values she and her spouse think are important in their children. The religion-based curriculum Mrs Lim uses for homeschooling are in line those values, she says.
Businesswoman Ms Jenny Wee likes how homeschooling allows her to tailor learning to her children’s unique pace. She has been homeschooling the two younger of her three children for their preschool years. When she teaches them, she customises the lesson according to their learning style. “I can be more in control of their learning and monitor whether my child is really learning,” she says, explaining that learning becomes more efficient and effective.
Customising the learning is especially important if the child has conditions, such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia, that make schooling in a mainstream school a huge struggle. Hence, parents of these kids may decide to homeschool them.
Yet other parents homeschool their kids because the family is based overseas. They want their children to be in tune with the local curriculum so that they can integrate into the school system more easily upon returning to Singapore.
Besides being able to customise learning, homeschooling allows flexibility of time, say homeschooling parents. Rigid school hours often dictate the schedules in many families. Pointing to the frenetic pace in school, some parents do not like the long hours kids are chalking, especially if activities like mass supplementary classes do not actually meet their child’s needs. Moreover, homeschooling allows parents to spend more time with their children.
Parents are also free to choose a more broad-based curriculum. For example, some parents break away from standard four subjects in primary school and introduce their children to geography, literature and history. One homeschooling mother even incorporates cookery lessons for her primary level kids as she feels that being able to fix simple meals is a basic life skill.
A number of parents also feel that by allowing the child to learn at his own pace and be led by his interests, they develop the joy of learning in the child.
Flexibility is the nature of homeschooling and each family eventually settles upon its own style of homeschooling, both in terms of schedule and content taught. Mrs Lim says her children observe a daily time-table although the schedule can accommodate changes.
Other families take a more a “free-spirited” approach. For instance, the child’s interest determines what is learnt for the day. If the child is particularly fascinated by an eclipse that had just occurred, the lesson would be centred on what caused the eclipse, with perhaps an impromptu field trip thrown in.
There are families who adhere to the local school syllabus closely while others combine various approaches into an “eclectic style”.
There will be practical considerations if you are deciding whether to homeschool your child. Be clear on what you wish to teach your child and the materials you would use. It can be costly to buy teaching aids and materials, and time-consuming preparing your own worksheets. Thankfully, the internet offers lots of online resources for free. Networking with a group of homeschooling parents also allows you to share resources.
Those who desire to homeschool their child in the primary school years need to get approval from the Ministry of Education and meet the stipulated requirements. Detailed information is found in the ministry’s website, www.moe.gov.sg. Or visit the website of the Singapore Home School Group, a support group for homeschooling families, at http://singaporehg.byethost13.com/.
Do be aware that a locally homeschooled child will be required to take a National Education quiz. Junior also has to sit for the PSLE and has to meet a higher benchmark set for homeschooled children. In addition, get informed on how school allocation works for homeschoolers if you intend to put your child back into mainstream secondary school.
Being ex-teachers, both Mrs Lim and Ms Wee are confident about teaching their own children. There are parents, however, who feel unsure if they have the competency to go the homeschool way.
One mother, for example, admitted that she had been very apprehensive as she only had O-level qualifications. Fortunately, the curriculum she chose uses lots of teaching videos. She also resolved to be an example to her kids by learning along with them.
The fear is unfounded if parents are homeschooling their preschoolers, feels Ms Wee. The preschool years involve more of teaching values than in-depth knowledge, she points out, adding, “You can always look things up on the internet.”
Many homeschooling parents wisely tap the host of learning centres available, especially for areas they do not feel confident teaching. The parents of 11-year-old homeschooler, Tanya, send her for composition classes at tuition centres to familiarise herself with what is required for the PSLE.
One of the biggest concern parents often raise over homeschooling is how their child would develop socially. Homeschooling families, however, say that missing out on opportunities to socialise is one of the greatest myths about homeschooled kids.
Apart from interaction with siblings and cousins, Mrs Lim points out that her children get to socialise when they attend enrichment classes, such as swimming and music lessons. Moreover, her kids interact with other kids in church weekly.
Another parent, Ella (not her real name), sets up play dates for her two children. She points out that her son and daughter actually socialise with more than peers. Both are involved in volunteer work from young and hone their social skills while interacting with other age groups, such as senior citizens.
Still, some parents feel that that school is a microcosm of the working world. It provides children the opportunities to learn to deal with a myriad of complex scenarios.
Citing a scenario such as managing a situation if her child forgets to bring his book to school, Ms Wee says, “I cannot provide that kind of learning.” Thus her decision to put her children back in mainstream schools after the preschool years.
Parents of homeschoolers candidly admit that homeschooling is no bed of roses. As one father commented, “Homeschooling is not for the faint-hearted.”
Handling other people’s perception and expectations is often part and parcel of homeschooling. Misconceptions about homeschooling abound. For example, Tanya’s tuition classmates think being homeschooled is cool because she gets to do whatever she wants at home instead of going to school. Homeschoolers are often looked upon with a mix of elevated expectations, curiosity and cynicism as others try to gauge how effective homeschooling is, albeit against their own very different personal benchmarks.
Also, the worry that their kids will fall behind those in the national school system does creep in, particularly when unsupportive family and relatives urge that the child be sent back to school. Ella relates how she had to reassure her daughter – and herself – when the child failed one subject in the PSLE. Rather than a reflection of her child’s capabilities, she felt that her daughter did not know how to answer exam questions in a certain way that would get her the marks as she is not trained by the school system.
Day-to-day challenges are present, too. As the home is also the school, striking a balance between the roles of a parent and a teacher may not always be easy. Discipline and diligence to prepare and conduct lessons, as well as mark the children’s work, are necessary. Throw these in with the parenting duties and managing the household. It is little wonder homeschooling parents say they often get asked how they manage and if they have time for themselves!
In spite of these, homeschooling parents often forge on. Ella acknowledges that it is a road less travelled, but she is determined to keep her focus on how she wants to nurture her children.