Unschooling is one step further away from standard education than homeschooling. In homeschooling, children don’t attend a traditional school, but they still follow a curriculum and complete formal assessments.
In unschooling, there is no set curriculum and kids are allowed to direct their own learning according to their interests and goals.
Zakiyya Ismail writes a blog and hosts a Facebook page for parents wanting to unschool their children. She estimates that there are about 1 000 families who follow the trend.
“The basic premises of unschooling is the recognition that all humans are natural learners and learn all the time, that learning happens as a by-product of living and that learning happens intentionally because of curiosity, an interest or a goal,” Ismail writes. “When this is understood, no ‘learning’ needs to be forced upon anybody. All learning is self-chosen and self-directed.”
She said learning happens by using the resources available, such as talking to people with particular skills and knowledge, doing educational courses, reading books and learning online.
Cape Town mother Leonie Mollentze decided to unschool her son after formal schooling became more a frustration than a learning experience.
“I was tired of trying to force my square-pegged son into a round hole,” Mollentze said. “He is academically incredibly strong, but a combination of boredom, stress to learn in a certain manner and bullying caused many issues. This way of learning has definitely made him a more engaged student of life. He likes to tell people that you get book learners and life learners, and that he is the latter.”
Now, his days include activities such as studying Japanese online through Duolingo, woodworking, practising the skills he learns at the College of Magic, coding and completing assessments that he sets for himself on Khan Academy, an online learning platform for maths and science.
Mollentze’s son also helps her create budgets for the home, helps out in her home office and attends some of her work events.
“While it does appear fairly random, I know exactly what is required according to his age and linked grade, and everything he does supports that outcome,” she said. “I do this specifically so that he is on par with his grade, the moment he decides which area of study he would like to pursue.”
Mollentze’s other child is homeschooled and follows the Education Department-approved curriculum.
“She is also a young lady who likes schedules, structure and educational leadership, which I happily provide. They are completely different children, who thrive under different learning conditions. I consider us fortunate to be in the position to offer our children two very different ways to learn under the same roof.”
Western Cape Education Department spokeswoman Jessica Shelver said the term unschooling referred to parents who don’t want their children to follow formal schooling and who instead do “incidental learning”.
Shelver said problems could arise if the children want to apply to university later in life.
“This presents a huge challenge in how are the children assessed whether they meet certain curriculum standards and outcomes,” she said. “It becomes even more problematic if these learners want to be admitted to a higher learning tertiary institution for further study.”
The constitution enshrines every child’s right to education, but it does not specify what form that education has to take.