Home-school Gains Grounds (NST, 2001)

This article appeared in 2001, might be interesting to have some historical sense of homeschooling here.

Home-school gains ground
By Sharon Nelson

Posted from New Straits Times (Malaysia) Source:

FOR most children, going to school involves catching a bus or riding in a car. But for a growing number of students in Malaysia, getting to school is as simple as taking a walk to the living-room.

Though statistics are unavailable, anecdotal evidence points to a noteworthy trend in Malaysian education: more and more parents are opting out of the conventional school system and are choosing instead to educate their children at home. Their reasons vary.

While some are deeply disillusioned with national schools, others simply want a broader choice of subjects with more emphasis on English. But they all have one thing in common: a strong belief that home-schooling will
provide them with the quality of education they feel their kids deserve.

Amrita and Samanta Soon, aged five and four respectively, attended conventional pre-school for two years until their parents decided to pull them out.

“We put them in a school which we felt was the right fit,” says their mother Chong Wai Leng, a former music teacher. Unfortunately, Chong, 36, and her husband, 37-year-old K.V. Soon, who are also the the authors of a parenting
website called FamilyPlace (www.familyplace. com.my), say that the school failed to live up to their expectations.

“I went in one day and found out that there was one teacher who scolded, or you could say threatened, the students,” says Soon who runs a dotcom company.

When his daughter Samanta, who was two plus at the time, was given an elephant to colour, she was told that it had to be coloured grey, and within the line. The penalty for getting the colours out of the line was that the
work would be thrown in the dustbin.

“Children that age are learning through exploring. Within certain boundaries, let them do what they want. If an elephant is purple, it’s purple. If it’s out of the line, it doesn’t mean it should go in the dustbin,” he says.

Also, say Chong and Soon, they noticed that Samanta was becoming more aggressive, while Amrita was showing signs of deep insecurity. After a few more spot-checks, they decided to undertake their pre-schooling themselves.

Today, they say, their girls are much happier and more confident, and Amrita in particular has become far less introverted. Though home-schooling is an established method of education in many developed countries, in Malaysia, it remains a relatively unknown, and to many, a slightly dubious concept.

Still, several home-schooling parents guess that the local numbers are already touching the hundreds.

Legally, it is above-board. Parents are free to explore methods of schooling because education in Malaysia is not compulsory. In the United States, there are close to two million children being educated at home for a variety of
reasons. The biggest impetus is religion.

According to the National Home Education Research Institute in Oregon, some 75 per cent of home-schoolers in the US are Christians, who want a learning environment where their own values are promoted.

Several US and British studies claim that home-schooled children do better academically at the tertiary level and are more inclined to display leadership qualities than those from conventional schools.

Even the most cursory research will reveal numerous methods of alternative schooling, ranging from the highly classical, which includes the rigorous study of Latin and philosophy, to the highly flexible, where the emphasis
focuses on the student’s interests.

Parents can also shop around for a home-school curriculum, which will provide closely-guided course structure and content. These are widely available in the US. If, however, no one method is suitable, there is always
the eclectic approach, taken by Soon and Chong.

When they first removed their daughters from pre-school, they looked everywhere for an alternative, but the high noise levels and limited space deterred them.

“Then I said to myself, What the heck? I can do this!” says Chong. “It involves a different mindset as to what learning is all about. It’s not sitting at the desk reading for three hours. It’s about life experiences.
Learning is not separate from life. Most parents, when considering alternative education, worry that their children will not have adequate interaction with others their own age.

But, says Soon, “you can always plan and interact with people.”

It may smack of stage-managed artificiality, but Soon has a neat answer to this.

“If you put them in regular school, that’s controlled and managed. The question is, who’s managing it?”

The other concern that parents have is the kind of qualifications their children will emerge with if home-schooled. Naturally, because examinations like the SPM are not taken, a local education at a public university is out
of the question. Most home-schoolers following a prescribed programme will be educated in English, and will go on to study abroad or at a private institution.

Kairos Resources in Petaling Jaya, run by Rudy and Ruby Liu, offers an education that will qualify a student to sit for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a tertiary level entry test accepted worldwide.

Although the month-old Kairos is billed as a home-school centre, purists say that since it does not actually take place in the student’s home, it is really an alternative school. The Lius, however, firmly believe that their
approach – flexible, with an emphasis on independence – falls within the realm of home-schooling.

The walls are lined with foldaway desks, that are partitioned off from each other. These are called “offices”. Each student is assigned an office, where they set their own goals for the day and get their work done.

The centre follows the School of Tomorrow curriculum, which integrates Christian scripture with academic work. Both Ruby and Rudy, qualified pastors, are running Kairos full-time. The course costs RM250 a month, with
an average of RM1,000 a year for books.

The beauty of the system, says Rudy, is that it allows a student to fall ill, take a holiday, or simply have an “off” day without falling behind. The core subjects offered are: English, Math, Social Studies (which includes History and Geography), and Science. Students can also choose from electives like Bible, Animal Science and Fine Art. Content is fully American.

If the need arises, say Ruby and Rudy, “functional” Bahasa Malaysia will be offered.

“We will teach them day-to-day communication, how to fill up forms, write a simple letter and so on. It will not be exam-oriented.”

The ability to work at an individual pace is particularly useful for children who do not take well to the rigidity of traditional school.

Although 16-year-old Katija Nordin was born with cerebral palsy, successful surgery coupled with a strong determination helped her overcome many of the accompanying physical problems.

After nursery school, which her mother Carole Slesinski says she loved, Katija proceeded to kindergarten and then regular school.The average class size here was 50, and she began to perform poorly.

“She was bullied because she was doing badly, and I feared for her physical safety…the teachers didn’t seem too concerned,” says 54-year-old Slesinski, who lives in Labuan. After three years of their daughter struggling to fit in, she and her husband Nordin Othman, decided to educate Katija at home. It then emerged that she had attention deficit disorder and dyslexia.

“I had never thought about it because she learned to read quite early on,” says Slesinski. The system that Katija uses comes from an academy called the Calvert School in Baltimore, US.

The approach is relatively formal – some of the books are standard American public school texts – and the school provides an optional service where examinations are graded by a teacher in the US.

If a student does not finish the year’s work on time, an explanation is required, but once given, is accepted. Because Katija fell behind during her years at the national school, she keeps a rigorous schedule to make up for
lost time. The day begins at 8am sharp and ends only when the work is done, with an hour for lunch in between.

Though the concept of home-schooling took some getting used to, Katija is mindful of the benefits.

“I think she’s beginning to see the importance of some sort of education, and she realises that she’s doing this for herself, and not for me,” says Slesinski.

As to whether she feels left out, given that all her friends attend regular school, Slesinski says: “Oh, definitely. She misses the day-to-day contact. But she was bullied so badly at school…(this way) she’s been able to bloom
and gain confidence, instead of being reviled every day for being a “little dumb girl”.”

“She’s very self-confident,” she adds. “And very sensible.”

Despite the obvious advantages, home-schooling may not be for everyone. For one, families must be comfortable enough financially for one parent to stay at home full-time. Those who home-school also emphasise the deep level of commitment needed; some even say that it is not suitable for large families because so much time and attention is needed for a single child.

Formal qualifications of parents, however, do not seem to be an issue.

“We can proudly say that we are non-graduates,” says Chong. If indeed they choose not to send their children to formal school, Chong and Soon will undertake some of the teaching themselves and “outsource” the rest.

What’s most important says Soon, is that “you strip away that mask you wear in society, and be parents. Be human.”

* For more information on Kairos Resources, call 03-78753544
*For more information on the Calvert system, go to http://www.calvertschool.org

News Straits Times: http://www.nstpi.com.my

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1 Response to Home-school Gains Grounds (NST, 2001)

  1. Pingback: Bookmarks about School

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