This was one of our early dialogue sessions that kicked off the interest in homeschooling held back in MAY 12, 2001 at our tiny apartment in Subang Jaya. Will be interested for those who might want some simple questions answered – K V
There was an air of great anticipation as people started to stream into our tiny apartment. They came from far and near – one couple came all the way from Malacca, to find out more about homeschooling. Many were genuinely considering the option to homeschool their children as they could see the potential benefits of it but at the same time, were concerned about certain issues like socialization and curriculum.
Our guests were David and Sook Ching, who have been homeschooling their sons Ethan and Elliot for a couple of years, and Mr and Mrs Christie Lordes, who had successfully homeschooled their four children up to university level! The dialogue was facilitated by K V Soon, co-founder of FamilyPlace. Obviously, our guests had a lot to impart to neophyte homeschoolers who came with their questions and curiosity. Here are some of the Q & A.
Q: What is homeschooling and what do you do?
David: Homeschooling is a lifestyle where you value family closeness and understanding. You have certain priorities that you want to upkeep for your family and you make a conscious effort to protect what you value and believe in. In education, we believe that parents play a crucial role as they are the first educators for their children, and under normal circumstances, parents should understand their children better than anyone else.
Family lifestyles should not be heavily influenced by external factors. Schooling at the expense of family time can do great damage if left unchecked. The generation gap between parents and their children would become real when the kids grow older. Problems arise when children spend more time away from their own parents, especially at an early age. Homeschooling is taking away stress and peer pressure and putting in positive values that schools cannot provide.
Different families have different ways of homeschooling, some are very unstructured, like the Unschooling method, and some can be very structured, like the imported homeschooling curriculum that comes with thick manual on teaching, learning and even testing. It all depends on what your needs are and how you want to fulfil that need. Essentially, it is finding the best way for your family to learn and to live happily and meaningfully in this world. As Wai Leng shares about her experience with her daughters, “Homeschooling is doing nothing as well as everything!”
Q: What about curriculum? Should we buy the packaged ones and how do we know which is the best?
Sook Ching: Do what you feel is right. You may or may not buy any of the packaged curriculum available from overseas, which can cost up to thousands of ringgit. Give you and your children time to get into the feel of homeschooling before jumping into any fixed curriculum. You may find that not everything in there may suit your needs and you may end up discarding it altogether. So, take your time to explore and find out what suits your family best.
Christie Lourdes: Most of the time, children are made to go through so many years of schooling just to reach the “O” levels or the “A” levels which are required for entry into most colleges and universities. With proper guidance and discipline, children can do it in much less the time that is usually required. My children did theirs at a very young age, and they’ve all gone to university and graduated with good results. This is because I did not let obstacles get in my way and I did what I felt was right for my family.
Q: What about the tough subjects like Chemistry or Add. Math?
Teachers themselves are not experts in all subjects and neither should parents be expected to. The important thing in homeschooling is to cultivate the child to enjoy learning for learning’s sake, and to be resourceful in finding information as and when they need it. Independent learning is far better than teacher-dependent learning. Children learn to think for themselves, to locate information and to process them before using them. This way, learning is not dependent on a teacher, or a particular place (usually called the “school”) or a set time where you are expected to learn a certain subject at a certain fixed time. In other words, the world is your classroom!
Sook Ching: You can outsource the subjects that you are not too strong in, like we do with Mandarin, since both of us do not speak or write Chinese, we used to send our boys to a Chinese tutor. But that didn’t quite work out for us because there is not enough opportunity for them to practise using the language. They learn BM now as we believe that it is important to know our own national language as we are Malaysians after all. In fact, we should make it a point to learn as many languages as we can as we feel that this would enrich our understanding and appreciation of other cultures and traditions.
Christie: I’m no expert but I managed to teach all four of my children successfully! (laughter) The thing is, do not plan too far ahead as things change at a burning rate, especially with the advent of computers and technology. Things could be very different ten years from now, and some of the subjects the children are studying today may be obsolete by then! Equip your children with learning skills and they would take care of themselves when the time comes.
Q: From what we have found out about homeschooling, it is essential that one of the parents (and this is usually the mother) stay at home to teach the children. What about fathers who are not really involved?
KV Soon: This is a very relevant question and I don’t know if I have the answer for it! But just to share my personal experience. As a full-time working father, I understand what it is like to be missing out on all the things that my children and my wife are doing at home. I try to be involved in their learning process during the weekends when we would do a project together like paper sculpture or some science project. I also make it a point to bring them out to educational places like the museums, science centres and natural parks. I think working fathers can play a role in homeschooling but in a different way.
David: To homeschool, both the parents must be equally committed, otherwise it would be more difficult. However, there are cases where single parents homeschool their children and have turned out fine for them.
Q: What about exams? Can homeschooled students take the local exams?
David: The general requirements for entry into private colleges or foreign universities are the “O” level, the “A” level or the “SAT”. These can be taken as private candidates and there is no age limit to them.
Christie: My daughter took her “O” level when she was under 10! I went to the British Council and found out that I had to take her to Singapore to take it then, which I did, and she passed! Now, I understand that you can sit for the “O” level here through the British Council.
Sook Ching: You could also get hold of exam papers from Singapore or elsewhere just to test your children’s level of competency. We do that sometimes, just for the fun of it. When you’re homeschooling, school exams are irrelevant. We do not submit ourselves to all the stress and agony of preparing for exams.
Q: What about preparing children for the real world? Would homeschooled children be too sheltered from the outside world?
Sook Ching: The general misconception about homeschooling is that homeschooled children are cut off from socializing with other children. We beg to differ because we feel that with strong family foundation, our children are able to relate with people from all age groups and not just their peer groups, which has its own set of problems. Our two boys have been able to spend more time with their grandparents and develop a good relationship with them. They have their neighbourhood friends whom they play with regularly and we have friends from our church which also acts as a good socializing factor. It is not true that homeschooled children have to means of socialization or that they are cut off from the real world. What better way to engage with the world than to be in it and truly experiencing it rather than being cooped up in a classroom full of children of the same age group which is far from what the real world actually is? Which is farther from the real world – the school or the home?
David: Schools are not the most conducive places for socialization. We can just look at the problems in schools like violence, bullying, discrimination, and so on. Is that the best place for children to socialize and to internalize good values? Children are all boxed in and are not encouraged to think outside the box. In the end, they get a rather myopic view of the world and lose touch with who they truly are.
Christie: We do not have answers to everything, neither can we solve all the problems ourselves. But what we can do is to give our children the best environment to learn with lots of love and encouragement. My child was considered slow by his teachers but he turned out to be a genius! My personal view is: Take your children’s education into your own hands and leave the rest to God!
KV Soon: And with that, we shall end our dialogue session here. Thank you all for coming especially our guests today, Mr and Mrs Christie Lourdes and David Tan and Sook Ching for sharing their experiences with us. We invite you to explore this concept further by keeping in touch through our newly formed Malaysian Home Educators’ Network for parents who are genuinely interested in or are already homeschooling their children. Please read the FAQ that we have compiled for you carefully and write in to us if you have further queries.
Thank you and have a good day!
Chong Wai Leng