Is SA’s education system in crisis?

We’ve all heard the horror stories: schools that are too full to take any more children, teachers gone AWOL and consecutively lower year-end results for matrics. Does this make you think twice about putting your child in a school?

According to Leendert van Oostrum, executive oficer of the Pestalozzi Trust legal defence fund for home education, “The single most important reason given by parents for homeschooling is because they believe South Africa’s education system – along with all school systems around the world– to be in crisis and they want a better education for their children.”

The second-most important reason given, he says, is that families want to educate their children in an environment that’s conducive to their philosophical or religious convictions. Lastly, children are often physically, verbally, emotionally and even sexually assaulted in schools –sometimes by peers and sometimes by teachers – and parents choose not to choose send their children to school for this reason too.

Shirley Erwee, co-owner of Footprints on Our Land, a South African Homeschool Curriculum, agrees, “Large classes, offensive study material, drugs, pornography, bad values learned in the school environment, a low pass rate at matric level and learning difficulties or special needs not catered for in schools all pose a problem– for some people– in public and private schools too.”

Parents who choose to homeschool might also want to give their children the opportunity to discover life as well as learning, avoid the institutional nature of school life, and allow them to learn according to their natural bent, she says.

On registering your child

On his website Bouwe van der Eems of the Association for Homeschooling writes that even though international law, the SA Constitution and the SA Schools Act make provision to register children for education at home, many provincial departments do not have administrative processes in place to do so. Additionally, those departments that do are often administered by officials that do not understand home education or the law on it, and these officials often require parents meet various conditions that are not required by the law.

In this situation, more than 90 percent of parents don’t register their children for home education, because they are not convinced that it will be in the interest of their children to meet these illegal conditions. He adds that the majority of homeschoolers in South Africa have elected not to register with the Department of Education but choose instead to register with a homeschooling defensor organisation that protects their constitutional rights.

“To date, not a single homeschooling parent has been successfully prosecuted for not registering their children for education at home,” he says.

What the Department of Education requires

According to the law, home education should meet the minimum requirements of the curriculum for public schools.The Department of Education, however, does not have a set of criteria by which to evaluate homeschooling curricula, which makes it tricky, says Leendert. In addition to this, “The documents that specify the curriculum requirements and standards of education until the end of 2003 have been investigated by a ministerial committee. The committee found the documents to be too complicated for most professional teachers to implement. Also, the standard of education provided in public schools is not really known at present. All this raises serious doubts about the practical implementability, reasonableness and validity of such documents,” he says.

What the law says:

Although homeschooling is legal in South Africa, and was incorporated into the South African schools act in 1996 (which states that schooling is compulsory for all South Africans from the age of seven (grade one) to the age of 15 (or the completion of grade nine), it’s not actively encouraged by the government. Permission must first be sought from provincial authorities, and various requirements must be met, such as the provision of a weekly timetable and a learning programme. 

Do I need to be qualified?

Says Leendert, “A mother does not have to be a teacher or be highly qualified in order to be a teacher. ”According to extensive research into the qualifications of homeschooling parents, the qualifications of the parent do not affect the performance of the students. Even parents that have dropped out of school have successfully home-educated their children throughout high school. Leendert adds that up until Grade One, a mother doesn’t have to follow a specific Grade N or Grade R curriculum, as these are designed to teach children in preprimary schools and care centres.

“Extensive research shows that all a child under the age of seven needs is to be read to for one hour of every day and to be with its mother,” he says. “Play with your child, involve him in your daily activities, and respond to your child’s questions and requests too. This is enough,” he believes. “If, however, you do decide to go with a curriculum (especially once your child is in Grade One) it’s a good idea to research the different approaches and the philosophies behind them, and choose one or create one that suits your individual family’s needs and values.”

“If there’s something that you’re not sure about, then find a qualified or experienced tutor to teach a specific subject– friends, relatives, neighbours, community clubs, and homeschool support groups are there to help you,” says Shirley.

Is homeschooling a cheaper option?

Homeschooling costs vary from family to family. However, in general, it would be safe to say that homeschooling need not cost you more than it would cost to have your children attend school. “Since most homeschooling families live on a single income, many of them find ways to educate their children on a tight budget, using carefully selected materials and then supplementing with resources from the public library system. There are also many homeschooling resources available via the internet that are free,” says Shirley.

Will my child be able to go to university?

In order to get a school-leaving certificate, your child may register to write the South African National Senior Certificate (NSC) through an accredited curriculum provider or he may take a school-leaving course that is internationally recognised and obtain a matric equivalent from HESA. He does not need to be registered with the Department of Education.

“If your child wants to go to technikon or university for further studies, he’ll need to meet the requirements of that particular institution. It’s advisable to first find out what the requirements are and then find a way to make sure that your child will qualify,” says Shirley. Recently a growing number of homeschooled students have been accepted to South African universities and because they are self-motivated and disciplined students, they have coped well with the rigorous demands of campus life. In the USA, where homeschooling is quite well established, universities welcome homeschooled learners for this same reason.

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