Posted by: Andries Louw | 23 November 2008

To home school or not

It recently struck me how many decisions of increasing controversial nature my wife and I have had to make since we got married, decisions that I would never have considered controversial before. When our first child was born the question was home birth or hospital birth? The next issue was whether to bottle feed or breast feed. Soon we were confronted with the question of our parenting philosophy as influenced by our feeding philosophy! We learnt about demand feeding vs parent directed feeding. I was amazed to discover that there are actually feeding philosophies. We soon realised that the next big question was going to be whether to home school or send our kids to public schools. Our oldest being 3-and-a-half we reckoned that the time has come to do some serious howework on the subject, pun not intended.

I always knew that home schooling was a controversial subject but I didn’t realise just how controversial until my wife and I attended an information day yesterday presented by the Pestalozzi Trust. The entire morning session was spent talking about the legal issues relating to home education. Mr Leendert van Oostrum, executive officer of the Trust explained that home education is provided for in the South African schools act since 1996 but that the government is making life difficult for home shoolers. The Pestalozzi Trust describe themselves as a legal defence fund for home education. They help their members stay out of court and provide legal advice in the event that they do need to go to court.

According to Van Oostrum many of the demands prescribed in government education policy documents are unreasonable and unjustifiable. He argues that because policy documents are not laws but merely guidelines, they may be ignored if they are not in line with the constitution. A recent example is found in the Call for guidelines and criteria to register learners for home education, published by the Gauteng MEC for education, Ms Angie Motshekga on 20 August 2008. One of the criteria to register for home education proposed by the MEC is that parents should ensure that the educator “is in possession of a minimum teaching qualification (three year teaching diploma) and be registered with the South African Council of Educators (SACE).” This would of course disqualify most home schooling parents. The full story including the Pestalozzi Trust’s comments can be read here, Gauteng frightens homeschoolers.

Driving back from the information day we talked about some of the controversial decisions we had taken over the past few years and how so many of these represent a return to basics, to a simpler lifestyle, a lifestyle that celebrates nature, an approach that values quality over quantity, and a protest against the notion of just doing something because “that’s the way it’s done”.

We haven’t made our final decision about home education yet but we have been stimulated to read more, to educate ourselves, to study the constitution and the education laws and policies. The mere process of investigating this option is forcing me to become a more informed and responsible citizen. I endeavour to blog some more on this subject because it has so many different aspects. I am also very interested to learn from anyone who would like to share their views.



  1. Twenty four years ago we went through exactly the same issues that you mention. Many of the questions could be answered by establishing our own motives. Why would we want to give birth at home? Is it REALLY going to improve our children’s IQ or social development or parent/child relationship? Or do we want to do this because we want to make some kind of statement? Breastfeeding was an issue with which we had less problems. Extended breastfeeding had so many advantages above formula that it wasn’t an issue. Being missionaries we also had to consider home schooling. My wife has an honours degree in education and I believe she knows more about this than I do. In most cases we would say that home schooling is better than sending your child to a hostel (at least for the first seven years). Many missionaries follow this route if they live to far away from acceptable schools. But with the exception of a VERY small number, we have found that public school is better than home schooling. We have many friends who do home schooling, not because they do not have access to excellent schools in South Africa, but because of more selfish motives (race issues, faith issues, etc). In fact, at this stage, we do not know one family who have opted for home schooling in our area who are doing a better job than the public school. (There may be exceptions that we are not aware of!) For the most part these children are not developing well socially (although I believe that many parents want their children to be isolated to protect them from the world, but then – for how long can you do this? Isn’t it better to expose your child to the social circumstances of the world and teach them to cope with these issues?) As the children become older, they are also struggling with certain subjects. In one particular family the parents want their children to take subjects like science, mathematics and IT. My wife is a mathematics and IT teacher. There is absolutely no way that someone who had not done mathematics at university can teach children mathematics up to Grade 12 level. In this case the parents now have to ask teachers from school to help their children with extra classes in order to prepare their children for exams. When it comes to science, the problem becomes even greater, because now the children have to find a fully-equipped laboratory (only available at the public school)! When it comes to IT, this can be done at home, but with the new genaration programming languages (like Java) very few parents will be able to help their children at home.
    So it boils down to two questions for me: Why do I want to deviate from the normal route (my motive) and how will it help my child on the long term?

  2. I live in the US so can’t comment on the legal issues you might be facing, but I can tell you that homeschooling is not nearly as difficult as most parents think. I am a homeschooling mom and college instructor, and there are many benefits to homeschooling. I could go on and on about this, but instead, I will direct you to my blog: The blog has information and ideas on teaching all the “tough stuff” like science and math, etc.

    Yes, in the long term, homeschooling helps most children. All three of my children learned more at home than they would have in schools, both academically and socially. My oldest started college at age 13, and my two younger ones started college at age 15, and they were capable of keeping up with or even being in the top of their classes academically. The two older ones have held elected offices in college clubs; the youngest just started this fall but has already joined two clubs.

  3. As an example of what a 14-year-old homeschooled student in science can do, check out my daughter’s blog:

  4. Arno, you are right about motives, but looking at a situation before you have experienced it is totally different than after the experience.

    A teacher who has seen many problem cases would not easily go for homeschooling – just like my wife (medical doctor) who has seen many babies die at birth, won’t go for a home delivery! A parent with a lame child due to a quad accident won’t buy a quad for other children. Some send their children to formal school and disaster hits, but due to the lack of an alternative, they stay with it.

    We are homeschooling our 3 kids and my current reasons for homeschooling have changed a lot to those before we started.
    Initially we thought more about academic reasons, protection from bullies and bad social influences. Those arguments moved down in importance after 3 years. My prime reasons now are family relationships and character building.

    We found social development much easier since we can select and control where our kids are being formed. So peer pressure, bad language, drugs, bullying, too early sexual development, etc. are much easier to keep under control rather than having to deal with bad experiences after they happened out of your control or sight.

    Another advantage that we see in many families is that homeschooled kids are better developed with vertical social interactions. I.e.: They relate to older and younger persons – not mainly their peer group. Help and protect the small ones, effective communication and co-operation with older ones.

    To have so much time with your kids is expensive but the love and bonds and adventures make it worth it. I would not easily change.

    I would not say that homeschooling is for everyone. It takes commitment and motivation and a steep (sometimes scary) learning curve for the parents. Inter-personal relations is also VERY important and personalities also play a big roll. Don’t do it on your own – get help – have a support structure – you’re going to need it.

    You get many failures in formal schools – you will also get them in homeschooling. Objective research into the long term success rates is only starting to appear now – and it seems homeschooling is doing better. But with so many factors and measures, it is difficult to make a scientifically sound decision.

    At least, at home you can’t blame a system or lack of personal attention … 🙂

  5. Arnau, Deborah and Ferdi, thank you so much for your comments. I value them and I love listening to both sides of the debate.

    Arnau, your points about motives and longterm benefits for the children are very valid. After reading your comment I thought maybe my statement “…a protest against the notion of just doing something because ‘that’s the way it’s done’.” can be interpreted as me saying that we are considering homeschooling because we want to make a statement.

    If we simply want to make a statement it would be a very selfish choice because then it would be more about us than about the well-being of our children. What I actually mean by that statement is that so often we are just following the crowd without thinking. Very often we don’t even consider the alternatives. In fact many people simply aren’t aware that there are alternatives!

    The main reason why I’m blogging about the subject now is to help me do my research about home education, to weigh up the benefits to my children against the disadvantages and to evaluate my own motives so that together my wife and I can make an informed decision.

    Deborah, I’ve read some of your and your daughter’s blogposts. They make for some very interesting reading and I must say I’m very impressed by the quality of your daughter’s writing. I learnt a few interesting things about cormorants and the intelligence of sheep!

    Ferdi, your point that homeschooling is not for everyone, is very important in the decision making process. We need ways to determine whether it is going to work for us but I don’t know if one can really establish that beforehand. I guess it’s one of those things where you can do your research but then have to try it out to see if it’s working for you or not.

    Can you point me to any “objective research into the long term success rates” that is starting to appear now?

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