Wai Leng responds to questions from a working dad on home schooling. This is an edited version of personal email exchanges with this father in 2003
Q1: Is homeschooling – where “parents takes charge” of the kids’ education – a total replacement or a complementary education to the national education system, meaning homeschooling takes over after the normal schooling hours.
A: Homeschooling is a way of living in the most wholesome and meaningful way a family could possibly experience together. It is about opening our doors to knowledge so that we shall learn together as a family and as a community. It is about living life to its fullest by rejoicing in the wonderment and excitement that life offers us. It is about having the time and freedom to stop to smell the roses and to sit back and admire the sunset. It is about following one’s heart for that is ultimately the only way that could possibly make us happy and satisfied with what we do. In homeschooling, children are the ones who truly take charge of their learning because they are allowed to be themselves and to feel good about what they can do well naturally. Parents learn to trust their children and to really listen to them – to their dreams, their hopes and their fears – and to be truly supportive of them in their growing years. Home-education is a better word to depict this form of learning and living for it is NOT about bringing the school back into the home, but rather, making education a natural daily occurrence that ebbs and flows with the tide.
Q2: By homeschooling, does it mean a kid is taken “offline” from the mainstream 6-year primary and 3+2-year secondary, and 2-year pre-U circuit normally designed for Malaysians?
In homeschooling, children’s learning is not limited or restricted by their age – they do not need to be put in an assembly line that is strictly timed and calculated so that they could result in a finished end-product. Children are viewed as persons with feelings and emotions that make them whole and special and are accepted as such. They are not subjected to the various and often inhumane testing and grading as if they were merely objects to be categorized and compartmentalized. Homeschooling has the potential to allow the child to grow to his or her fullest potential by letting the child discover his or her special abilities and to develop them to their fullest capacity. If a 6-year-old child is able to handle Year 2 Math or English, why should she be held back because of her age? If a 15 year old teenager is ready for university, why should he wait so that he is of the ripe approved age to enter it? If a 5-year old child already knows she wants to be a ballerina when she grows up, why should she not be allowed to pursue her dream even at that early age? On the other hand, if the child takes his or her time to learn to read and write, why try to hurry them? We cannot make them talk or walk earlier than their natural bodily development, so why rush their learning development?
Q3: Assuming a kid finishes the full homeschooling of – say, shorter than 13 years – and wanted to get a cert in legal practice (eg LLB & CLP), medical practice (eg MBBS), civil engineering (eg BE) from a notable university (locally and overseas), how would he go about it to get accepted?
A: More and more universities are recognizing homeschoolers as high achievers and generally better learners and are accepting them with little questions asked. In fact, some universities have to set a higher benchmark for homeschoolers as their results often surpass normal school-going students!
Q4: Is there a solution to a homeschooling kid’s employment in the job market? (Admittedly, from homeschooling to homeworking could be one possible route.)
A: Homeschoolers grow up learning to live and think outside the box and thus will not be likely to end up in one! Homeschoolers are more likely to pursue activities that are not the run-of-the-mill type and to create new ways of working and expressing one’s life passions.
Q5: What’s the Government official stand on homeschooling… case by case or blanket? Or does the Government’s policy matter at all? To put it more simply, is homeschooling the way I understand it from this thread COMPLIANT or AGAINST Malaysian laws?
A: Homeschooling is NOT illegal in Malaysia – that has been clarified by the Education Ministry and hence, it is NOT against the law. Homeschooling is now recognized by the Ministry and is allowed to be practised by parents at home.
Q6: How is the impact on a homeschooling kid socio-psychologically, will he/she be denied of peer support, cohortism and sheer camaraderie of socialising mixing around with competing students to excel and mature in a balanced manner?
A: How can a homeschooler who is free from peer pressure or the need to impress or conform to others at the expense of his or her self-esteem be socially-handicapped? The fact is, a home-educated child who spends more quality time with her family members, her neighbours, her friends at various social settings like clubs, community centres and voluntary bodies that she is probably active in, has a greater opportunity to truly build and experience meaningful and lasting friendships with people of various age groups and backgrounds compared to a classroom of 50 or so kids of the same age and mentality. The question that arises is: who actually are the psychologically-affected ones here – those who are in schools or those who are not?
Q7: How much time in a day must and can a parent devote to homeschool his/her/their kid?
A: It is important to know that home-education is a lifestyle that is as natural as breathing. So, every activity that is done with awareness and clarity of mind is an educational process. Learning is not restricted to only reading or writing work at the desk. Sometimes children go for days or weeks without performing these tasks and learn from playing, from observing, from questioning or just from being with nature. All these experiences enhance their “academic” learning, giving them greater depth of understanding, which would otherwise be very dry and theoretical knowledge. Every single waking moment is a homeshooling experience! Even the less pleasant ones if they learn something from it.
Q8: How would a working parent homeschool his kid?
A: By not putting additional pressure on himself or herself as a parent or onto his or her child to be academically better all the time. Time should be spent building a close relationship with the child and to be genuinely interested in what he or she has to do or say. And the child should not be shut out from the working parent’s working life but instead be made to feel part of it by occasionally bringing him or her along to one’s office and by seeking their opinion about certain aspects of one’s work. Work as in learning, should not be perceived or lived as a mechanical chore that has to be done just to ensure that a regular salary is maintained to maintain one’s lifestyle. A parent’s attitude towards one’s work has a great bearing on the child and may determine what the child ends up doing as an adult. With thoughtful planning and engineering, our children has a good chance to freely pursue their dreams and to turn them into realities – and be truly happy individuals contributing positively to society.
Our daughters, Amrita (6) and Samanta (5) have been growing and learning very happily without schooling and it shows in the way their faces radiate with joy and inner calm as they play and sing and dance and draw and run and cycle and swim and climb and laugh and roll and kiss and embrace … How do we know we are doing the right thing? By just looking at their bright and radiant faces that lifts the heart and brightens our days. Our hearts tell us that we are doing the right thing. Our children show us that this is how they want to live and love and learn. Our conscience tell us that something so beautiful and possible cannot possibly be wrong. And so we shall continue to live and love and learn the way we feel that is best for us for as long as we want to and along the way, hopefully we could inspire others to live the educated life with as much joy and freedom as we have ourselves experienced.
May more parents have the courage to embrace joyful learning with their children at home!
By Chong Wai Leng