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Transitioning from crisis-schooling to homeschooling

The homeschooling community has always supported families who are new to the journey, and never more so since the first lockdown started in South Africa in March 2020. There is a major difference between considering home education, researching various options and starting at leisure, and being forced to home educate while family incomes and health are at stake. This article gives a voice to the unique experience of parents who had to start crisis-schooling and addresses their challenges.

Normal homeschooling versus crisis-schooling

Normal homeschooling is typically decided on after taking time to research, consider, talk to other homeschooling families, etc. Parents then decide on first steps, typically deschooling for a while (taking a break from all things “school-related” if the child is withdrawn from a school) before starting a new routine and approach to their education journey. There is usually no immediate pressure unless the child’s health is at stake.

Normal homeschooling also means more social access to libraries, group activities, time to train in sport, art, and other types of recreation. During the pandemic, social distancing impacted this severely for everyone.

Homeschool parent Laura Thomson said, “It was so stressful not knowing how long lockdown was going to last. My sons school had to permanently shut during lockdown. It was hard for us to say goodbye without really having a chance to say goodbye properly.”

Crisis-schooling is a term that was coined in 2020 because with schools closed, parents and schools were forced to quickly navigate online communication, assignment, and assessment platforms. Lack of preparation and infrastructure in SA meant that this was (and remains, in many cases) frustrating for children, parents, and teachers. Parents were forced to replicate school-at-home, an approach that is the opposite of homeschooling.

One such parent, Veronique Arthur, explains, “We hated the school-at-home. We were paying full (private) school fees with minimal support (once a week you get a flood of worksheets, no face-to-face time with teachers, and even memos emailed for parents to mark). Plus, a LOT of bookwork. My son was in tears daily.”

Impossible decisions for parents

Parents were placed in the impossible position of sending their children back to school once schools reopened to face intense sanitization, social distancing protocols and possible health risks, or keeping them home to continue home education. At home, there is the challenge of childcare while the parents have either lost employment or continue working from home or away from home. There is no easy or simple decision, and much of it comes down to finances and support.

Many parents are not happy with paying expensive school fees for a service that is simply not set up to support children online. Some families do not have grandparents or other relatives who can help, and parents are forced to either take their children to work with them or leave them with someone else in the community. Education is taking on a new shape for each family, depending on what resources are available.

Rebekka Liebenberg, the founder of the largest Facebook homeschooling support group has been supporting many parents throughout the past year and she says that at the core:

“There are huge social and socio-economic issues that are making it extremely challenging for mothers and fathers to become the leaders in their home when it comes to education. I want to encourage parents to shift their focus from externally projected timeframes and standards for education and give themselves more time to adjust. The pressure to catch up and stay up to date is distracting from the core mission of education at home. Without information, you cannot cater to or prepare for your child’s individual needs.”

The struggle continues in 2021

The second wave of the virus in South Africa resulted in a fast second lockdown, postponing the opening of schools yet again. Parents are on a seesaw of frustration and hope as the dates for schools shutting and reopening keep changing. For some, this becomes the final straw, pushing them onto the homeschool road just to regain some stability.

Laura made the switch because of her son’s anxiety, saying, “Starting school in grade R was difficult for him. It took him a while to settle and there were quite a few things he just point blank refused to do. I knew that mainstream school was possibly not the best place for him. We decided to try out homeschooling from around Aug 2020 to see if it would work for us. It went very well so we decided to stick with it.”

What benefits does homeschooling offer during this pandemic?

It is difficult to feel or see any progress in learning when learners are required to go to school every other day and learn online in the days in between. Parents are wondering if all stress and effort is worth the bother because there’s so much to keep up with now. It’s overwhelming.

In this scenario, home education offers more benefits than before:

  • Better control over the daily routine – parents and children can decide what gets done when, how, where and by what date, setting goals and tasks according to their own needs.
  • Parents and children have control over how much work is done and can set their own pace, instead of keeping up with the schools. The pace can (and should) be adjusted if there is a crisis in the family.
  • It solves the communication problems between schools and parents. If parents choose to use an online home education platform, they have the benefit of gaining support from a platform that was specifically designed and created to help families homeschool successfully.
  • Support from the homeschool community – families who have been doing this for years can provide advice on routines, different approaches and methods that work, the mindset of homeschooling, etc.
  • There is less risk of getting infected when doing homeschooling, because children aren’t mixing with so many other youngsters. This is especially beneficial for family members who are at high risk and/or immunocompromised.
  • Homeschooling can be much cheaper because there are more economical options (and even free options) to choose from. This is a huge relief for families who have lost income due to COVID-19-related retrenchments.

Veronique added that she could definitely see the benefits of switching, saying, “We are a happier mom and son. Our schedule is easier to handle (work, play, holidays). We prefer the flexibility. I have a better understanding of what my child knows and struggles with and understand the end goal better. We can customise education.”

Additional reasons to consider homeschooling

Aside from the immediate challenges, there are other serious reasons to consider homeschooling, such as:

  • The public school system has been broken for years now – it is an industrialized approach with an infrastructure that is not in sync with the digital revolution we are living in. In South Africa especially, the educational infrastructure has been left far behind compared to international standards.
  • This begs the question how well can the current school system prepare your child for the future? How well will your child be prepared for employment? These are completely different times for our youth and parents cannot rely on old ways of thinking to address new challenges.
  • Even without the pandemic, safety in schools has also diminished. Statistics on bullying show that on average 1 in 5 students have been bullied during the school year (National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES,2019). UNESCO’s most recent global study on the subject shows that 1 in 3 students have suffered physical, violent bullying at school at least once a month.

A different education

We are all learning new things from this unusual history-making time — children and adults alike. New ways of communication, learning, processing, and moving forward are all changing the way things are done. Adults are turning to entrepreneurship out of necessity, families are supporting each other to survive, and youngsters are learning to navigate a vastly different world.

Homeschooling and its various options and opportunities for learning and preparing for real life, along with the mindset of independent thinking and learning that comes with it, may well be the only way forward.

 

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Sunday, 25 September 2022

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