Sunday 05 April 2020

Home schooling: More cons than pros

This blog post first appeared on Malta Today

Remember the feeling of the first day of school after summer holidays are over? The anticipation of seeing your friends again, the excitement of buying a new uniform, new shoes, new books, new satchel, everything shiny and bright, which gives you the indescribable feeling of starting over with a clean slate. To this day I cannot enter a stationery around September time, without getting the urge to buy school supplies. My fingers itch to buy a fat, thick spiral notebook with reams of empty pages and an array of sleek pens, even though I barely ever use them any more, preferring to type reminders and lists on my phone and my laptop. I almost get the urge to start some kind of course and go back to studying again just as an excuse to buy a bunch of different coloured files. Nerdy, I know, but true.

As the beginning of a new scholastic year approaches bringing back all these nostalgic back to school feelings, I have been thinking about the proposal by the Ministry of Education to introduce home schooling in Malta.

On the face of it, I can understand why some parents who are thoroughly not in sync with the constraints and demands of the island’s rigid educational system may look at home schooling as the answer to all their prayers. What’s not to like? You can teach your child at your own leisure and at their own pace, tailoring the subjects to suit their needs (and yours). In theory it sounds like a wonderful, idyllic idea where children’s minds will absorb new ideas and concepts like sponges, freed from what seems like an almost regimental approach to schooling. Think of all the freedom! No more school runs in manic traffic, no more hassles of sitting down to do hours of homework, no more panic attacks as mid-term and yearly exams beckon.
No more uniforms or yelling at kids to “hurry up, you’re going to be late”. No more having to deal with teachers who are not on your wavelength and no more coping with a child who hates school because of classroom bullies.

But before getting too carried away, let me just quote the Education Minister Evarist Bartolo himself on what home schooling really means, when he was interviewed by Raphael Vassallo for Malta Today last month:

“…(home schooling) is not an automatic right; parents have to apply, and show what programmes are to be offered. The tutors who will deliver those programmes must have a warrant, like they do at school. You can’t simply say: ‘Listen: I know what’s best for my kids, and will provide them with an experience that is superior to what is offered in schools…’”

Aware of the possible “dangers” of home schooling because it can easily lend itself to a cult-type of education, the Minister stressed that it would have to be done under strict supervision. “All home schooling initiatives will have to be accredited. The programmes have to be approved, to ensure there is no fanaticism, no intolerance, no extremism, and no strange or crazy ideas being promoted.”

When explained in these terms, I can see that in some cases, it might just work, however, the importance of socialization provided by formal schooling (which the Minister also referred to) cannot be overlooked.

When we look back at our school years, we probably all have memories which we would prefer to forget: the teacher we didn’t like or who didn’t like us, cliques of girls and boys who excluded us because we were not popular enough, and even downright bullies who made our lives hell. There were subjects we couldn’t understand and which we didn’t see the point of, and boring lessons which seemed to be never-ending. And yet, there are also good memories of friendships and laughter and simply that feeling of “belonging” which going to school year after year with people of your own age gives you.

Schooling can be an often bumpy path, but it is also a microcosm of life – because nothing else can prepares you for dealing with all types of people and situations later on in life. The social skills required to navigate school from kindergarten all the way to your last year in Form Five could never be replicated if one is home schooled. There is also a lot to be said for the importance of school to help you break away from the sometimes over-protective hovering of well-meaning parents. This breaking away is healthy for both sides, to distill the ever-growing temptation to become what are known as helicopter parents who are obsessively involved their children’s lives, not allowing them the chance to grow and learn by themselves.

The separate lives we lead as children when we go to that building called school allows us the opportunity to become individual people who are not attached to apron strings; it gives us the chance to make mistakes, to fall down and learn to pick ourselves up to try again away from the constant presence of parents who (if they could) would like to keep us in an impenetrable bubble, always safe from harm. As idealistic as that sounds, that is just not possible, and it will only lead to tears anyway, once the bubble bursts and the overly-sheltered child learns the hard way that they must face the world on their own.

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