AS I SEE IT
Home schooling got kicked centre stage recently following critical comment from Tanaiste Micheal Martin, a former teacher “I am not a great fan of home schooling, I think kids need to socialise. I just find the whole thing disquieting,” he said. Not surprisingly heated discussion followed on the airwaves.
Given my own experiences of schools in Belfast – dire in one where I was bullied for not being sporty and uninspiring in the next – gave me to thinking. On the face of it home schooling seems to have advantages which would have appealed to me. One on one teaching with time for discussion, rather than being silent in a big class, freedom to follow subjects that interested me, (parents aren’t required to follow the curriculum) and no dreaded sport.
Normally a low-key topic, home schooling has become more popular since the pandemic, showing a 25% increase. Parents have a constitutional right to educate their children at home. They don’t need a teaching qualification although there are many teachers among the estimated 4000, (the official figure is lower at 1,837 due to the numbers awaiting registration with Tusla, currently 1,940). Children are required to have a suitable level of education and among the reasons parents choose to home school are belief in a child – centred approach, cultural issues, a child’s special needs or difficulties in school such as bullying.
One of the criticisms of home schooling is the lack of oversight by the State which only occurs once in Ireland. Parents home-schooling children aged over six years must apply to Tusla for registration, which may be granted after an inspection. Currently, wait times are running at a year or more.
But there is no oversight by the Department of Education. In the US there has been a considerable increase in home schooling mainly due to the numbers of conservative evangelical parents who don’t want their children exposed to liberal state education. The lack of oversight and balance between parent rights and the rights of children to education where they may be exposed to belief systems isolated from societal influence has caused concern there.
There are more members of the Home Education Network (HEN) teaching their children at primary level. I wonder, though, about the challenges when teaching at secondary level and access for pupils to third level education. To get an insight I spoke with Catherine Monaghan from Ashford, Co.Wicklow who has home-schooled her son Theo, since he was three- years-old.
“I felt he was so happy and thriving and I wanted him to be free and not be confined by school,” she told me. Living in Australia at the time she made contact with other home schoolers there, before returning to Ireland when Theo was 12 , continuing to home school her son and joining HEN.
“It is a lifestyle choice really. It has been a wonderful experience, having that time together is a gift. You find ways to do the things that the kids want to do and there are so many resources out there.” Theo is now 17 and has just finished homeschooling. He is now studying drama at Level 6.
Catherine Monaghan doesn’t agree with the idea that home schooling lacks socialisation, pointing out that her son plays in the community, has strong connections there, meeting a diverse cross-section of people rather than being with the same group of same age children daily.”There isn’t so much peer pressure when they are not together all the time,” she says.
HEN run zoom sessions every month to for their members to keep in touch. In turn, members run local events and the organisation runs a three day annual get together.
As for teaching at second level Catherine Monaghan hasn’t experienced any difficulty.”There are so many resources out there and you are just building on what you did the day before. Having done it I feel as if I am now better educated than when I left school!”
Results obtained through Quality and Qualifications Ireland( QQI) and Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) allow home schooled students who don’t have a Leaving Cert to progress to university.
Home schooling may become more prominent in future as people exercise choice, predominantly the parents’ choice. Among the questions going forward is how children’s rights and need to become independent are affected. Some oversight seems wise to ensure that children are faring well. In school they have a variety of teachers, whereas at home there may be only one.