Cape Town - Thousands of Western Cape parents are choosing to educate their children at home as more families look for alternatives to mainstream schooling.
Bouwe van der Eems, chairman of the Association for Homeschooling, said the latest census results, which showed that 5 337 Western Cape children were home-schooled, provided the only available statistics on home-schoolers in South Africa but the number was believed to be much higher.
He said more than 95 percent of home-schooling parents didn’t register with the Department of Education.
The Western Cape Education Department’s records showed only 167 children were registered for home-schooling.
The department’s spokesman, Paddy Attwell, said parents were required to get approval to provide home-schooling until the child was 15 or in Grade 9, whichever came first.
Some of the registered pupils had already reached this age.
Attwell said the number of new registrations had fluctuated over the years, although it was now increasing.
There were 28 new registrations in 2010, 14 in 2011, 38 in 2012, 39 last year and 89 this year.
The issue of registration recently came under the spotlight when the Western Cape Education Department published a notice saying parents had to register for home education.
Van der Eems said that according to the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, parents “have a prior right to choose the type of education that is directed towards the full development of the human potential of their children.
“We are advised that, in terms of human rights, a parent does not have to inform the state that she will, or does, home-educate her child.”
Van der Eems said the notice also prescribed that the education provided had to be in line with the national curriculum.
“This means freedom of parents to choose the content of education will be restricted to a handful of local curricula that are based on the national curriculum. Such a requirement is in conflict with the constitution and therefore unlawful.”
Parents also took issue with a draft policy on home education, which was published by the department earlier in the year.
Van der Eems said the policy It infringed on the rights of parents to choose the type of education that was in the best interests of the child by prescribing educational content.
It would “burden” parents with a large administrative workload of tasks “that do not have any educational value”, such as keeping an attendance register.
Van der Eems said that because the home-school community had foreseen threats to the freedom of home education, the Cape Home Educators, along with other home education stakeholders, had elected a steering committee for education.
The aim was to engage with the government and to create a vehicle through which all home educators could channel their queries and objections to the government.
The first meeting with the department was held last month.
Attwell said the draft policy should not have been circulated at the time and had been withdrawn with an apology. “The department is holding draft provincial policy in abeyance pending a review of national policy by the Department of Basic Education.”
He said the department had “generally found” that parents who registered children for home-schooling did so happily and were fully committed to meeting requirements.
Attwell said the department was applying national policy on home schooling. “We do not believe that the conditions are restrictive. The policy provides a means of managing home schooling in a way that protects the rights of the child to quality education.”
Attwell said home-schoolers were not required to follow the National Curriculum Statement although they had to meet the requirements of Section 51 of the SA Schools Act.
“These include meeting the minimum requirements of the national curriculum of public schools, for example, standards required in different grades for various subjects.
“Home-schooled learners must meet the requirements for admission to the National Senior Certificate examinations to register for the exams.”
Van der Eems said parents chose home schooling for a number of reasons including safety and religion.
Some felt their children would get an education of a higher standard at home while others felt it was the best choice for children with special needs.
“Some parents choose it for financial reasons. Parents would like to provide their children with a superior education to public schools but they cannot afford private schools.”
He said parents made use of a wide variety of curricula. - Ilse Fredericks
From baking to science, learning at home is fun
Kiera Hayes slices and butters a loaf of freshly baked banana bread. Then she types furiously on her laptop.
Sixth-grader Kiera is well-spoken and uncannily poised for her age. She has completed a short novel, created three stop-motion films, and frequently writes short stories, some of which she has submitted to a publishing company.
She is one of thousands of children who are home-schooled in the Western Cape, taught by her mother Taryn Hayes in their Plumstead home.
Taryn was a high school English and history teacher until the early 2000s when, while pregnant with Kiera, she became unhappy with the direction the South African education system was taking.
“They were planning on teaching outcomes-based education and I was concerned with the content – they were teaching life skills, life orientation,” Taryn says.
She also home-schools her other three children, Katie, 9, Samuel 7, and Micah, 5, with the help of her husband Craig who works as operations manager Africa at Datacash International.
But she says that ultimately it was the pull of home education, not the push against the South African school system, which got her to make the decision.
“Using my children’s skills, we can work at the level they are at and there is the freedom to choose your own curriculum, the freedom to move at your own pace. There is a huge flexibility,” she says.
“Also for family relationships, it’s such a good starting point.”
They draw on a Christian-based curriculum called Sonlight which was inspired by Charlotte Mason, an 18th century educator who used “living books”, narrative-style learning materials.
The family starts with Bible study each day, and covers language, arts, maths and Afrikaans. They also learn piano, typing, cursive, as well as any interests they might have.
When he’s not working, Craig takes them hiking, and reads to them every night. The family have just finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia and are now tackling Doctor Dolittle.
Taryn says that despite the children’s age discrepancies it wasn’t difficult because she works with each child individually based on their ability, not necessarily their grade level.
The girls laugh remembering an incident involving a volatile afternoon with a baking soda and vinegar volcano.
They aren’t the only home-educated family who love science experiments. Every Wednesday they meet other families in a group called “the Lunch Bunch” to do arts and crafts, science experiments, or go on short outings. They also participate in gymnastics, art and drama programmes. - Arabella Watters
Mom took active girl out of school and hasn’t looked back
“She’s a kinesthetic learner which means she needs activities, she needs to be bouncing around to learn. I didn’t even know what that meant until we started home-schooling,” said a Mitchells Plain mother about her 8-year-old daughter.
“It was fine in Grade R and Grade 1, but in Grade 2 she had to sit still all the time, and her marks started to drop.”
The mother of four started home-schooling her daughter earlier this year after the curriculum at their Athlone school no longer suited her daughter’s needs. She started to come up with excuses not to go to school and complained that class was boring.
She and her husband, a banker, decided to try teaching her at home. She has no formal teaching experience herself, but wanted to give her daughter “one-on-one individual attention”. She chose to remain anonymous because the family is not registered with the Department of Education. She said trying to register was “time-consuming and frustrating”.
“If you’re registered, they try to make you replicate the school environment at home, which is completely beside the point of home-schooling, because it was that environment where she wasn’t thriving,” she said.
She teaches her daughter from the Caps curriculum offered free online for home-schooling families, but she also adds extras at times. For instance, her daughter would “fly through English, fly through life skills, but struggled with maths” using an Abacus maths programme. She says that the results have been remarkable.
The flexibility of home-schooling offers the ability to focus on drama, cooking, baking, art, and music. Often she works with her daughter planting vegetables or deworming their garden, as well as on other extracurricular activities, many of which are done with other home-schooling families.
The family meet with a home-schooling group every two weeks. All the mothers rotate teaching special lessons – hers is crocheting. Although the family are Roman Catholic, she said that “religion was not the main motivator”.
The family spend less time travelling and find only about three hours of strict class work a day are needed to keep up with the curriculum. She plans to home-school her three younger children, 4, 2, and 4 months, when they are ready, saying the benefits are clear.
“My 2-year-old just sits watching everything and… she already knows her numbers.” - Arabella Watters