Thousands opt for home school

By Shaanaaz de Jager

THOUSANDS of parents in  the Eastern Cape and South Africa  have firmly closed the book on government schooling, choosing instead to educate their children at home.

Official figures are not available but an expert told Weekend Post that as many as 120 000 South African families could now be schooling their children at home.

“There is probably not less than 30 000 and probably not more than 120 000 families home schooling their children in South Africa,” said Pestalozzi Trust executive officer Leendert Oostrum.

Oostrum, who started with home schooling 20 years ago, said there was no official records for home schooling.

Eastern Cape Homeschooling Association (Echsa) chairwoman Megan Puchert said it appeared home schooling was growing in the Eastern Cape but not all home-schoolers were members of the organisation. 

It was important to not view home schooling as a “cheap” option of education, she said.

Suzanne Smith, of Lorraine, homeschools her children Ewan,14, and Callum,12 PHOTOGRAPH: JUDY DE VEGA.Port Elizabeth mother Suzanne Smith said she began home schooling her sons, aged 13 and 14, three years ago, and was happy with their progress. “They cope well and are not overstressed. I have also reduced my one son’s Ritalin medication.”
One of her sons had  attended a special needs school as he has problems reading and writing. The other has Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and had struggled in a mainstream primary school.

“Schools have their functions and there are good teachers, but we felt our children’s needs were not catered for,” Smith explained.

She said there was “comprehensive” home-school material available.

“We import our material from overseas and at times use the internet to help with lessons as well. They use the Oxford curriculum and other material is imported from the US. In August they write the Conquesta exams.”

Smith said it was important to create opportunities for home-schooled pupils to interact with other children.

The Port Elizabeth-based Eagles Group for home-schoolers has about 60 families on its mailing list,  not all from the city.

The Eagles arrange for regular get-togethers such as sport and socialising.

Home-schooler Natasha Saunders of  the Eagles said children took part in pursuits like athletics, chess competitions and educational outings.

“When the time to send my firstborn to school came round, I felt she was too advanced in her reading, writing and maths to go to a public school.  She would’ve been bored. We continued what we were doing and simply followed the pattern for the other two children,” she said.

Saunders sent her eldest daughter to a local school this year “to get a taste of how the other side lives”. 

“I am a strict-timetable home-schooler so we are always in the classroom by 8am. But there’s no stress in it, compared to getting a child to another location.”

Port Elizabeth psychologist Carol Vogel recommended that parents did thorough research, consult a psychologist and establish clear reasons before making the decision to take a child out of school for home schooling. 

East London-based education expert Ken Alston said “home schooling can be highly successful”.

“It is  possible for a child to move ahead a grade when home-schooled.”

Another option was to have qualified teachers assisting in the home schooling.

Alston added it was important to know that in South Africa children could not write matric if they did not attend Grade 11 and Grade 12 at a South African school.

“But they can write the British A Level and Oxford exams, which are accepted by universities.”

The Eastern Cape Department of Education did not respond to media queries, while the DA’s spokesman for education, Edmund van Vuuren, had reservations about home schooling.

He said there were good schools available and children needed to interact with others. Not all parents had the subject knowledge to adequately prepare their children, he felt.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, October 27, 2012.

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