By Erin Alexander
Too many times, being told, “You don’t need to know that yet”, said Ashleigh Hellstrom, who is currently a Rhodes University first year; however she was previously one of a currently rising trend in South Africa, students who have abandoned main stream schooling for the home schooling alternative. She continued to describe her time with in main stream schooling, “I’d ask ‘why’ and they wouldn’t explain it to me properly. With homeschooling if I had a ‘why’ immediately I could go and I could research the ‘why’, where as in class if I tried to research the ‘why’ I’d get detention for being on my phone”. Through most of her high school education Ashleigh studied via correspondence using the Cambridge system as her family travelled extensively and where not in any one place long enough to go through main stream schooling. Due to a change in situation she was forced back into main stream education in her grade 11 year.
Both public and private schools in South Africa have large numbers of students per class. Students who struggle to keep up are not given enough attention and students who excel are told to slow down for their classmates. Teaching in public schools has been compared to “crowd control” rather than actually teaching. “The strain of overcrowding in public schools is a huge problem and would be a reason to avoid that method”, said Sarah Alexander a former Maths teacher at a public school and private school as well as a home school tutor. With all these issues in main stream schooling parents and students are looking for alternatives. They don’t have to look far. Homeschooling rates are growing in South Africa, unfortunately the government does not encourage this and makes it difficult for home school students, meaning there is no exact record of how many students are currently being home schooled in one capacity or another. The government’s lack of help makes it difficult for home school students to get into South African universities, however the access these students have to overseas curriculum such as the Cambridge system does make it easier for them to be accepted into overseas universities.
While I was a home school student (due to my failing health and main stream schools not being able to support me when I was bed ridden for long periods of time), I met many people who had home schooled for various different reasons. The lack of strict schedule appealed to many students who were excelling in sporting events such as dancing, wrestling and tennis, giving them more time and lenience with deadlines for extents and practice. Students who had previously failed at main stream schools due to drugs and alcohol problems enjoyed the close attention that is given to students when schools and classes are smaller. There were many students who had been bullied in main stream schools for reasons such as sexuality and gender, home schooling allowed them more freedom to express themselves without a gender conforming uniform and acceptance in that all other students had a reason and a story as to why they weren’t in main stream schools.
What few people realise is that there is more than one way to home school. It is not the stereotypical image of a student studying alone in their bedroom. While studying via correspondence (having the textbooks sent to you and simply registering to write the exam) is a common option, there are now more and more home school centre’s emerging. These centre’s usually have small classes of one too about twelve students, there are no uniforms and usually there is very little homework. This means the student’s receive large amounts of one on one attention, and they cater to students who have been let down and silenced by main stream education. Home school centre’s offer the ‘safe space’ that schools claim are meant to be, students who end up home schooling usually have a story to tell; mental health issues such as ADHD, dyslexia and anxiety, as well as physical health issues, students who have been bullied and students who simply cannot conform to the structured atmosphere of main stream education, as many feel isolated and alienated.
Home schooling unfortunately has a large stigma surrounding it, it is seen as a place for ‘dropouts’ who cannot manage academically. However students who home school actually have some advantages over students who go through main stream schooling. Home school students learn to have a great deal of self discipline, as they don’t have anyone other than themselves to make sure their work is completed. They also are a step ahead when it comes to university, as a home school student is used to having to find out information by themselves rather than simply waiting for a teacher to give them information. Although there are a few down falls such as a lack of social life while studying via correspondence, they are downfalls that modern technology allows home school students to easily overcome. Skype, YouTube and Facebook, allow students to communicate with each other and with tutors. Facebook groups surrounding home school in different areas are easy ways to find other students or sports and cultural groups to join. YouTube allows home school students to access the same lessons, or usually better lessons than main stream schools as there is no talking in the ‘classroom’.
While there are a few disadvantages to home schooling, with the many different types there are far more advantages such as lack of exposure to drugs and the need for students to develop self discipline. Main stream schooling is failing these students, seeing them as simply another statistic, another number of students who will not graduate, and yet there is another option. The stigma surrounding home school needs to change; there are too many students who dropout because main stream schooling does not work for them and they don’t know that there is another, better option.