“Children are being freed to learn as nature intended” – just one comment I will always remember from my 2002 research into why Australian parents were home educating their children. I was curious as to why so many were taking the plunge into home based learning in Australia. Recently, isolation-schooling during the pandemic has exposed the option to all families as a possibility. Here, I explain why a steadily-increasing number of families been home educating in Australia over the past few decades.
Some parents actively choose to home educate. They make the decision sometime – whether when their children are infants (and even unborn), or when they feel dissatisfied with their children’s schooling for any reason. Some parents feel that there was no other choice. Perhaps they have exceptional or neurodiverse children, their children are sick or injured, they may be simply unable to cope with the stress of school, or they are geographically isolated. In most of these cases, school was the original or preferred choice, but it just didn’t, or wouldn't, work out for the families involved – they feel that home education is the only option left for them. Many declare that it is the best thing to happen to their families and continue even if the original hurdles are overcome.
Australia is renowned worldwide for school of the air – the original main option for children scattered across our wide brown land. increasingly, city kids are using distance education as well – from home and even within schools, and it's no longer delivered via radio, but relies heavily on the use of modern technology and the internet. When I was a school student in 1990, I wanted to study a language that wasn’t available at senior level within our school, so I did distance education in an unused room, at the library, or at home during lesson times. It was 100% left up to me to choose when and where I participated in my lessons. I found it a flexible way to study and enjoyed the independence greatly. I feel that this experience prepared me well for the responsibility of entering tertiary education in a city far away from my family when I was seventeen, and to study online throughout adulthood. I guess it was also a sneak preview of the possibilities of homeschooling!
Many parents lament that at 4, 5 or 6 children are too young to hand over to a system that is seen as having many flaws. Beverley Paine once explained to me, “We loved April and didn’t want to miss a minute of her five year old life.” I think many home educating parents utter a resounding “hear, hear” at that touching comment. Indeed, these early years are a sensitive time for the little ones. Many argue that it the ideal time to begin academics – the children are so open to new ideas and often learn at an accelerated rate – but at what cost? Pioneer homeschool authors Raymond and Dorothy Moore, in their book School Can Wait, shared a great deal of evidence that early academics and separation from parents can do a lot of harm.
In my research, parents reiterated that the freedom home based learning allowed them was the greatest gift. Time with their children, without the constraints of the bus or commute, packed lunches, school uniforms and a lot of rushing was what they valued most. Others stated that the upholding of family values and their religion are the main reasons they chose to educate outside the system. It is true that most schools in Australia are not inclusive of all belief systems, and logically so – with so many people in an artificial social structure it would be near impossible to be so diverse in their curriculum alone!
One parent suggested that home education allowed a child to evolve as a spirit at her own pace, and to grow beyond what a school environment would allow. She said, “Maybe some of us homeschool out of curiosity of the possibilities. I’m sure that’s part of why I do.” And that gentle statement rang true with me. I saw my children and could imagine how a school education would shape them – in and out of the classroom. I know I didn’t like those possibilities. As that mother also said to me, “I think living in the inquiry and continuing each day and being open to questions allows the flexibility that gives her the space she needs to grow. And I don’t think that’s a bad place to be.”
Some parents argued that, due to the pitfalls of attending most schools, home education is an ideal, wholistic environment to learn. They see home based learning as a near-perfect, tailor-made education, superior to even the best private schools available. This attitude is commonly perceived and resented by the school community. They see it as elitist and therefore unaustralian. I could see the difficulties in home education and was hopeful that any obstacles were outweighed by benefits, because I believe that home education enables the Individual Education Plan that schools hope to offer, but logistically are unable to manage. We were taught at University, during my Bachelor of Education, that this was the way of the future. Nearly 30 years on, there is still mass-production schooling happening in almost all Australian schools (some would say that with the National Curriculum it's actually more homogenised than ever). Perhaps I was the only student of my class able to put theory into practice as a home educating mother of seven?
Parents are deciding to home educate for many reasons. Each family has its’ own list of reasons and its’ own method of conducting their home based learning journey.