An article about homeschooling way back in 2004 published in The SUN. I am happy to know that David maintains that the ideals and ideas have not changed.
When school is at home
By: Jenny Ng (Fri, 12 Nov 2004)
HOMEMAKER Clarissa (not her real name) is thinking of taking her Standard One son out of school and teaching him on her own or sending him to a faith-based home-schooling centre near her home.
He is studying in a Chinese primary school and she is concerned that the competitive environment and heavy workload would do her young son more harm than good.
Worldwide, more parents are taking on the responsibility for educating their children by teaching them at home. Home schooling is popular in Canada, France, the UK and US.
In the US, the National Home Education Research Institute estimates that two million American youngsters are now taught at home, compared to just 345,000 in 1994, a decade ago.
In Malaysia, home schooling is not a new phenomenon; David Tan, who home schools his two boys aged 14 and 12, first heard of home schooling from his brother-in-law living in Canada. He reckons that home schooling came to Malaysian shores in the 1980s.
The exact number of home schoolers in Malaysia is unknown although it has been reported that there are an estimated 400 families whose children are taught at home.
There are various types of home schooling: Some parents teach their children following a set curriculum; the “unschoolers”, on the other hand, don’t have a specific curriculum.
Then, there is community-based home schooling like faith-based home-schooling centres.
In the US, Christians made up the core of the modern home schooling movement when it first started. However, in the last 20 years, home schooling families there have come from a diverse spectrum of society.
In Malaysia, home schoolers say while Christian families form part of the home-schooling community, there are secular multiracial groups as well.
Why home school?
For Huang (not his real name — some parents interviewed for this article preferred to remain anonymous in part because of concern over the reaction from the authorities), an IT entrepreneur, his decision to home school his daughters was driven by the desire to instil the right values in them.
“All of us respond to our environment. Our pursuits are social, emotional and spiritual but formal schooling represents the core of material pursuits — students wanting to be top of the class, pass exams and get well-paid jobs, (and) joining the rat race.
“In a structure detached from us (parents), how much values do children inherit from us? We see this as very important because values form the core of an individual,” says the father of three.
Tan’s two boys have never attended a formal school. He and his wife teach them, following an American home-study curriculum.
Since Tan is the breadwinner, his wife did most of the teaching when they first started home schooling but as the children grew, they have become self-directed, studying on their own while his wife supervises and reviews the lessons.
Tan believes home schooling promotes family unity. “Children spend more time with their peers in a formal school structure; often, they are closer to their peers than to their own parents. With (children spending) hours away from home, parents lose not only their influence over kids, they lose their children’s affection too,” he says.
His view is backed up by Ruth Liew, a consultant at Access Child Resource Centre Sdn Bhd, which provides child care and education stimulation services. “It’s not just books, PC-learning or sitting down writing an essay. It’s getting the whole family involved in the various activities, and the parents learn as well.”
Educationist Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid agrees. He says while schools are excellent for technical learning because of the availability of labs and equipments, loving homes and fully functional families provide the basis for the learning of soft skills.
To him, home schooling encompasses compensatory, complimentary and remedial education done at home.
Huang and Tan form what Ibrahim considers the Malaysian educated middle class whose decision to home school is driven by the character-building motivation.
According to him, the motivations for home schooling may be classified as religious, character-building, higher-order cognitive competency, enrichment, personal elegance or high culture and even parents who intentionally rebel against the system.
Within this general classification, there may be differentiation in terms of ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. For example, the rural Malays whose children attend community-based religious classes fall under the religious motive.
The character-building motive includes those from religious and secular backgrounds in urban areas.
Ibrahim, who is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, explains that parents with high aspirations may find schools falling short of their expectations in terms of character development and instilling values in their children.
Some disillusioned parents may resort to home schooling. Also, some non-Muslim parents feel that in the last 10 to 15 years, national schools have become increasingly Islamic in character.
Of course, not all of them turn to home schooling, but it’s certainly a motivating factor for some.
Ibrahim notes that many national leaders have themselves expressed concern that national schools have lost their attraction, especially among the non-Malays, some of whom have become increasingly uncomfortable with the cultural and religious dominance in the national school system.
However, he says steps have been taken to make national schools more attractive in response to these concerns.
One size fits all
Free from the constraints of the school bell or exam schedules, home-schooled children have the opportunity to develop an interest in subjects they like as opposed to the one-size-fits-all method of teaching in school.
In traditional schools where over 40 students are packed into one classroom under the supervision of one teacher, developing each child’s interest becomes a challenge.
Tan says instead of the pressure-cooker environment of a formal school where students are subject to peer pressure to excel and where the political agenda takes precedence over families’ needs, home schooling offers a loving environment which allows children to grow and develop at their own pace.
“The school system promotes a standard curriculum because there’s a clear agenda based on the thinking that if people think the same thing, it will lead to greater social cohesiveness.
“But simple observation shows that this is not working. People learn differently. In a traditional school system, children are not given enough latitude to grow in a wholesome and holistic way.
“Home schooling gives the child latitude where there’s an atmosphere of acceptance and love, they’re not forced to learn just for exams. They learn far more that way”” he explains.
The flexibility of a home-school environment suits slow learners, hyperactive kids or gifted children versus the traditional school system where promotion to another level is automatic, based on age.
“If you’re eight years old, you have to be in Standard Two. If you’re seven, you have to go to Standard One. You can’t skip or miss a grade. When they have learning disabilities or are very gifted, that becomes a problem,” says child psychologist Woo Pei Jun of Teoh Psychology Services.
She advocates home schooling for slow learners, gifted children and children who suffer from speech or language impairment.
In a home-schooling setting, they won’t be pressured to conform to the rest of the class if they are too slow or too far ahead.
Slow learners who get teased by their peers risk forming an inferiority complex while fast learners become bored, eventually losing interest in learning.
But reading is a major component of home schooling, especially where a self-study text is used — and home schoolers have to learn to read before they can read to learn.
The other side of the coin
There are drawbacks to home schooling. Parents must be prepared to pay more for the imported study materials and since students are not following the national curricula, the only route to higher education is through private colleges and universities abroad.
However, some may want to consider sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia or Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia if they want to enter local universities.
Most home schoolers opt for A-levels or the American college entry exam SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test.
Parents who home school their children also make enormous sacrifices — some quit work to stay home and teach. The lack of opportunities to interact with children of other races is another issue.
Child psychologist Dr Teoh Hsien-Jin of Teoh Psychology Services believes that from a national perspective, it is best to have one education system.
“It helps to have one unified system for the citizens because when they come out of schools, they are all on par and equally employable. We live in a multi-racial society, it helps to know multi languages. The concept of home schooling is good but a lot of kids come out unaware of the Malaysian culture and situation,” he explains.
Jamie Chin, 19, studied at a Chinese school up to Form Three. After the Penilaian Menengah Rendah exams, her parents sent her to a Christian home-schooling centre in Old Klang Road.
Chin and her family are non-Christians but since English is the medium of instruction, they all hoped her English would improve, and it did.
Chin admits her stint at the school helped build her character but she remembers missing friends in her old school, the activities and year-end parties. She was the oldest in her class at the home-school centre and didn’t have many friends who were closer to her age.
“I prefer a conventional school where I have a lot of friends, there’s a big compound for sports and labs for science experiments,” says Chin, who is now teaching in a kindergarten while studying to be a Montessori teacher.
The biggest setback to the home-schooling movement is an amendment to the Education Act 1996, which came into effect last year, requiring compulsory education for Malaysian children aged six onwards.
Compulsory education is defined as primary education and exemptions from it are made at the discretion of the education minister on a case-by-case basis.
Contravention of the law is punishable by way of a RM5,000 fine or imprisonment up to six months or both. However, since the law came into effect last year, only children aged seven and below would be affected.
In response to queries from theSun, the Ministry of Education says since the amendment to the Education Act came into effect and up to this month, there have been 27 applications, out of which 19 were given conditional approval.
Eight cases were rejected due to the lack of basis for home schooling. The ministry says primary schooling is compulsory to ensure that no child is left behind in receiving an education, especially the poor.
The amendment, however, has put parents who have been home schooling in a dilemma.
“Because of the implications and because it is not promoted as an option and there have been ambiguous policies regarding home schooling, people have not come out in the open.
“However, it is clear that parents want to take responsibility for the education of their children,” says educationist Ibrahim.
The ministry says exceptions have been made for those suffering from dyslexia, hyperactivity and short attention span, autism, Prader-Willi syndrome, as well as those who are develop-mentally delayed with some autistic characteristics.
Families who travel regularly due to a parent’s work and whose children may find it challenging fitting into a conventional school system have also been given exemptions.
In almost all cases, a psychology assessment is required to justify keeping the child out of a conventional school.
Proponents of home schooling, however, say even in the absence of specific learning difficulties, there is nothing wrong or illegal with parents teaching their children.
“Compulsory education is a child’s right. Parents have to support this and the ministry has to support the fact that parents know a child from birth and have their interests at heart,” says Liew.
“Whether home schooling is good or bad depends on the family. We have to see home schooling in the context of parenting education and the quality of education in general. It’s a complex issue,” says Ibrahim.
For Tan and Huang, home schooling is a deliberate choice which has worked well for their families. Both appeal for greater acceptance for home schooling.
“There is a place for conventional schooling because not every parent can home school but with globalisation, we need to have the option of alternative methods of teaching and home schooling is an option.
“A family unit is held together when parents take charge, and strong families make a strong nation,” says Tan.
Providing an alternative
Is a home-schooling centre the same as home schooling? No, say purists. Teaching at such centres is supervised by third parties, not by parents.
In most of these centres, children learn on their own; if they have queries, they ask a supervisor for help.
Despite the argument over the definition, the fact that home-schooling centres have cropped up in the Klang Valley in recent years is testimony to the growing interest in, and demand for, home schooling and its alternatives.
The Grace Resource Centre in Petaling Jaya is one such centre. Currently, there are 53 children enrolled there.
Social activist V Prasad’s seven-year-old son is one of them. “My son has a heart problem and I could not take the risk of sending him to a traditional school where there is little supervision. My brother sends his son to a traditional school and there have been occasions when the teachers don’t turn up in class. I wanted a small classroom where there is close supervision,” he explains.
The negative effects of peer socialisation in schools is another reason some parents prefer to teach their children at home or send them to home-schooling resource centres.
“Morals and discipline are not what they used to be. These days, in a lot of schools not just in Malaysia but worldwide, discipline and quality of education have sadly dropped,” says Dr Henry Ramaya, chairman of Grace Assembly Church which runs Grace Resource Centre.
Grace Resource Centre, established in 2000, is the home- schooling ministry under the umbrella of the Grace Assembly church. Its objective is to complement home-schooling parents’ efforts in educating their children.
Grace Assembly runs two other resource centres in Klang and USJ. A handful of similar centres set up by different churches exists in the Klang Valley.
“This is not a school, it’s a resource centre; we provide the facilities to make it easier for parents who are already home schooling. Home schooling is based in homes where parents educate and teach the children; the emphasis is on family and home.
“Ideally, both or at least one parent must be involved in the education of the child but where not possible, we provide the resources to enable home schooling. We work with the parents,” says Ramaya.
The centre caters to three groups — kids who study at the centre from 9am to 3pm; parents who home school with some support from the centre and those who merely purchase the study materials from there.
Kids who spend the whole day at the centre pay between RM250 and RM350 every month.
Purists say home-schooling centres such as Grace Resource Centre are not the same as home schooling, they are merely an alternative.
Educationists add that the structure and organisation of home-schooling centres still resemble that of a formal school.
At Grace Resource Centre, there are two cubicle-filled rooms. Each child occupies a cubicle. Whenever a child encounters a problem, he or she raises a flag — an indication to the supervisor that help is needed. A third room with a dozen or more computers caters to older children who learn their lessons from CDs uploaded to the computers.
The supervisor to student ratio is one to 14. The minimum qualification for those supervising the “middlers” (Grades Four to Six) and seniors (Grades Seven to 12) is a diploma in education or teaching, with experience in teaching.
Children at the centre follow the Alpha Omega Publication curriculum from the US which offers five subjects — Language Arts, Math, History and Geography, Science and Bible — from Grade One to 12. The children take a test at the end of the day on the lessons learnt.
Children of other faiths have the option to drop Bible as a subject, says Ramaya. Bahasa Melayu from Standard One to Form Three, based on the national curriculum, is also taught.
Children at the centre start lessons at 9am and finish at 3pm. The centre also offers extracurricular activities such as music, football, basketball, swimming and Royal Rangers (a Christian ministry for boys centred on spirituality, community and outdoor activities).
Field trips to places of interest expose the children to local history and experiences. Since the centre is run by a church, most of the children come from Christian homes, with a minority from secular backgrounds.
In 2000, it was reported that the centre, along with a few other private colleges, was raided and closed down in the Education Ministry’s crackdown on errant operators of educational institutions.
Ramaya clarifies that officials from the Education Ministry did come to inspect the centre, but it was never closed down.
“We spoke to them, we gave them reports of what we were doing, we were allowed to carry on until the end of the year. By then, we were given permission to continue,” he explains, adding that the ministry is well aware of the centre’s existence.
Addressing the legitimacy of home schooling and the resource centre,
Ramaya says: “There is no law for or against it. Our centre is not a school, it is a resource centre. And is it wrong for a father or mother to teach a child?”
In fact, Ramaya is spearheading the newly formed Association of Home Schooling. Its main objective is to enable home schoolers to conduct dialogues with government agencies and statutory bodies as a legal entity on issues related to home learning, he says.
The educational definition of home schooling goes beyond children being taught at home.
In the legal sense, in developed countries, home schooling refers to children receiving education at home but, from an educational perspective, home schooling has a broader meaning.
“Education and learning is about life and it can take place anywhere. The new meaning of home schooling now is e-learning. Before, we had correspondence courses where people learn at home.
“It’s not new; before schools came about, people learnt at home, in communities,” explains educationist Prof Datuk Dr Ibrahim Ahmad Bajunid.
Some among the older generations of Malaysians have never been to a formal school as it is a relatively new phenomenon in Malaysia. The country’s first formal school was the Penang Free School, set up in 1816.
The right to schooling was only established in the 1960s, making the Malaysian school system a fairly young one. In the past, families took responsibility for children’s learning.
These days, however, that responsibility has been passed on to schools. “Families must take part and reclaim their educational role,” adds Ibrahim, dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak.
The familial role is not limited to parents who teach their children at home, it also refers to partial home schooling where parents continue to provide compensatory, remedial or enrichment education outside a child’s formal schooling to make up for schools’ shortcomings in the learning of other skills.
While schools provide opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge, extra-curricular activities and socialisation, they have their limitations.
“In between, schools have many bad things (like) discrimination and bullying. Children can learn wrong things in school; (if so) 15,000 to 17,000 hours in a child’s life will be lost,” says Ibrahim.
While schools are excellent in terms of technical learning thanks to facilities like labs and equipment, loving homes and fully functional families provide the basis for the learning of soft skills.
“Children learn from parents by example, schools can never give this. The best teachers can only be temporary role models. Good parents are the best role models, teachers are surrogate role models. Students have the best of both if they have good parents and teachers,” says Ibrahim.
The official line
In a written response to theSun, the Ministry of Education says the following factors will be considered in applications for exemptions from compulsory education
- The parents’ and child’s nationality and residence status;
- Whether the child has registered in a school;
- Reasons for requiring home schooling;
- The parents’ ability to home school;
- The suitability of the home-schooling plan devised by the parents, and
- The curriculum, timetable and methods of assessment used.
Conditional approval will be given once the minister is satisfied that the factors above have been met. The conditions include:
- The number of years exempted;
- The use of the KBSR curriculum; and
- Allowing an officer from the ministry to monitor the progress.
Applications, inclusive of relevant forms and documents, should be submitted to:
Pengarah, Bahagian Perancangan dan Penyelidikan Dasar Pendidikan
Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia
Paras 2, 3 & 5, Blok J
Pusat Bandar Damansara
50604 Kuala Lumpur
— end —