Child’s needs must come first

February 22, 2017

For 3 years, I was taught at home by my parents during a period that was one of the most important stages of my education.

As someone who was homeschooled, I’ve followed with interest proposed changes to the way this method of education will be monitored in Victoria.

For 3 years, I was taught at home by my parents during a period that was one of the most important stages of my education.

Contrary to some common perceptions about homeschooling, school days were, in my case, well structured and timetabled, just as they would be in a traditional classroom setting.

Back then I was living in Tasmania and there was an authority that would check in with us periodically on the teaching plans, to review completed work and, in general, ensure they were happy with what was going on.

For a number of reasons, being homeschooled at this point in my educational journey was exactly what I needed, and I have a lot to thank my parents for, for providing me with this opportunity.

It instilled in me a good work ethic, a strong desire for accuracy, feelings of pride in my work and a strong knowledge base.

I also feel I benefited greatly from receiving the one-on-one teaching experience 100 per cent of the time, a situation that is not possible to replicate in a traditional classroom setting.

Homeschooling is not a scenario that would be the right fit for every student, but in this case it was good for me.

A common question my parents and I were asked during that time was whether my social skills would suffer because of the lack of interaction, something normally received at a regular school.

It was a difficult one to answer at the time and a little hard to quantify, but it is 13 years since I stopped being homeschooled and I don’t believe it has ultimately had any adverse effects in this area at all.

When I did switch to a traditional classroom setting, of course it was an adjustment, but by no means did I feel inadequate, from either an educational perspective or a social interaction point of view.

I re-entered the regular school system in Year 9, before going on to pre-tertiary studies, and then studying journalism at university, before securing my first job in the field 5 years ago.

I have had no trouble making friends, socialising or with communication in general.

I am now working in a field that, for as long as I can remember, I always knew I wanted to.

Being homeschooled at such a key point in my education was crucial to achieving this goal.

The way homeschooling is delivered in Victoria is under the microscope, with the state government drafting proposed changes to tighten the rules.

About 4500 Victorian students are homeschooled, with proposed new regulations including the need to submit a one-off learning plan to the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.

This plan would require parents to explain how they proposed to deliver on eight key learning areas — the arts, English, health and physical education, language other than English, mathematics, science and technology, and studies of society and environment.

Another key aspect of the reforms is to give the VRQA new powers to review a family’s arrangement for homeschooling to make sure they are providing quality education to children.

Parents who home school their children in the state have spoken out about their issues with the proposed changes, saying that an approval process that will be required to be completed before removing children from school is potentially problematic.

They are concerned the proposed changes have been introduced hastily, without proper consultation and have not necessarily been based on evidence.

For parents new to homeschooling, there could be a good and urgent reason why they want to pull their child out of school immediately, for example, in the case of severe bullying when there are safety issues.

It is also important to note that teaching methods will quite often need to be tailored depending on the student, taking into account factors such as learning difficulties.

No doubt there should be stringent checking processes in place to ensure all children are receiving a good quality education, whether they are taught at school or at home.

But what must not be overlooked in the proposed changes is that every child is different — and at the forefront of any decision-making on the issue should be what is best for each individual child.

Consultation with parents who homeschool should be wide-ranging and consider a range of factors, not only educational outcomes, but taking into account emergency situations where parents may feel there is no other option but to remove their child from a traditional school setting.

I am all for structure and guidelines in this space and think they are essential, but we need to tread carefully to ensure it is done right, so as not to undermine existing homeschoolers or those who are thinking about doing it in the future.

Cameron Whiteley is news editor at The News.

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