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By Deani Van Pelt
and Beth Green
Back-to-school means different things for many of Canada’s five million school-age children. For an increasing share of students in almost every province, it means something other than attending a neighbourhood public school.
Home-schooling, while still small in overall uptake – Manitoba has the highest share at 1.5 per cent – grew by over 36 per cent between 2007 and 2014.
Despite home-schooling’s increasing popularity with parents, widespread misperception about it persists and continues to be perpetuated.
Typically, claims are made that home-schooled students may not get the best education, that they don’t have a variety of teachers, don’t engage with peers, are subject to insufficient curricula and are ill-prepared for post-secondary education. Some critics even suggest that these students can’t reach their full potential and so governments should more stringently regulate home-schooling.
But let’s consider the evidence.
Parents do care about curriculum and they know when it’s failing their child. The last national study of 3,800 home-schooled students by the Canadian Centre for Home Education (CCHE) in 2003 found that about a quarter chose home-schooling because of frustration with the alternatives. And more than half said they made the choice because they believed they could achieve more academically. In other words, they’ve tried the alternatives and, at least for a time, found them wanting.
Critics of the diverse curricula that home-schooling parents often select want more stringent requirements put in place to ensure home-school families use provincial curriculum. But the notion that only a provincial curriculum is sufficient to ensure a quality education is misguided. If so, how can we explain the success of students in independent schools that don’t follow provincial curricula?
Critics often also forget that many home-school parents are provincially certified teachers, some even holding full-time jobs in public or independent schools while they home-school one or more of their children. A 2009 CCHE study of adults formerly home-schooled in Canada found that 17 per cent of their mothers and 11 per cent of their fathers were certified teachers, the majority of whom had previously taught in a public school.
The opportunity for parents to take full responsibility for directing their children’s education is and always has been legal in every province in Canada. Parents are positioned to determine what’s best for their kids. The CCHE 2009 study found that more than 55 per cent attended a home-school for some of their kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education but spent the rest of their years in a school setting.
An alarming inertia sets in when we accept misperceptions regarding education that isn’t government designed, delivered and stringently regulated. We shield ourselves from creatively thinking about new forms of education and this is to our detriment. Home-schooling shows that parents and kids can be far more responsible for decisions about their education than imagined.
Home-schooling show the advantages, for example, of flexible schooling in which parents and teachers share responsibility for education. Several weekdays are spent at a public or independent school, or in a home-school co-operative run by qualified teachers and other subject-specific experts. The rest of the week is spent in non-traditional education settings, pursuing other advanced goals in areas not best delivered in a school.
Home-schooling, like most other forms of education, can be tremendously successful (although it isn’t always). A recent study by Cardus found that the graduates of no other group are more likely to get a PhD or advanced professional degree than those who were in religious home-school environments.
Let’s remove our blinders about alternative approaches to designing and delivering education such as home-schooling. Instead, we should be thankful for the parents, teachers and community members who step up and offer their creativity, expertise and resources to educate kids to reach their potential.
The rest of us can learn something from them about what education in the future could look like.
Deani Van Pelt is a senior fellow at Cardus and Beth Green is education program director at Cardus.
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