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Changing Nature of Home Education

Beverley Paine, August 2021

There is no doubt that the nature of home education is changing. I've been kicking around in homeschooling land since 1986 and saw it coming, but nothing could have prepared me for the change that has happened since the beginning of last year.

20 years ago a principal at our local school attended a conference in Melbourne and came back enthused about the potential of online education. I was sceptical at the time, and for this reason: this morning I heard that 33,000 students in NSW don't have access to reliable internet at home. I am disappointed but not surprised that although the system were aware that the future of education was internet based the pace of change, the infrastructure and support needed to support that change, weren't given the attention required.

The internet has changed the nature of home education. We began home educating with pencils and workbooks. We bought a third-hand photocopier - homeschoolers who could afford it did back then. I haven't heard the term 'blackline masters' used in years... I remember dreaming of one day being able to pick up my phone and access an all-knowing online encyclopaedia because there really wasn't enough books in our local library to answer our questions. Imagine homeschooling without the internet! I can't. And I did it.

In the 1990s I figured that the education system I wanted for my children probably wouldn't appear until they had their children. By the time they'd grown up I realised it was at least another generation away. Perhaps my kids grandkids might enjoy that... I see pockets of community-based education appearing here and there and I still believe home education is leading the way, but change, lasting sustainable change, is slow.

18 months ago like many others I railed against the adoption of the term 'homeschooling' by governments desperately trying to rapidly adapt to something they had enthusiastically chatted about 20 years earlier - online education. And although like many others I was protesting that no, forced schooling at home is not homeschooling, I was quietly disturbed. It is absolutely true that the practice of home education is worlds apart from a school-based educational experience, and at the heart of this is that word 'forced'. In the home we have to negotiate with our children. They can choose when and how and why to learn in ways that their schooled peers can't. It changes the very nature of education for our children. It changes the very understanding of the nature of education for us parents.

Even the most ardent 'school-at-home' approaches to home education are affected by the freedom our families experience to constantly and continuously adapt what and how and when and where we approach education to meet our children's individual needs, in ways that schools can't possibly match.

But at the same time as acknowledging and celebrating this wonderful effect that sustained home educating has on our understanding and beliefs about the purpose and role of education in our children's lives, I have seen an gentle but persistent undermining of this freedom.

And it is coming from the source that I knew it would 20 years ago. Educational curriculum providers - the massive industry that supports school education - would one day realise that home education is BIG business. Far better to supply 500 individual homeschools than one local primary school. There is real money to be made here. Don't ever doubt it.

And it is all going online. The enthusiastic principal I mentioned earlier waxed lyrically about gamifying education to increase engagement and motivation to learn. Kids don't play computer games to learn, the learning that occurs happens anyway while they play for other reasons. Having made a board game to help my children learn particular maths skills I know how tempting it is to go down this path. But it does miss the point. And after we've homeschooled for a year or two or five this point takes centre stage in our lives: we learn what we need to learn, successful learning is personally meaningful in the here and now, and the ability to tailor experiences and activities to suit individual learner needs facilitates this. Home education is successful because it is agile, adaptive, flexible.

Adopting methods that have suited school-based learning have limited functionality in free learning environments.

And what I'm seeing in the transition to online education is whole-sale replication of those methods.

And because it is conveniently available, and because it is what people believe to be what children need because schools have been using it for decades, it is slowly replacing the time honoured experimentation that I believe gives rise to home education success. Trial and error - making mistakes - is how we humans learn. Getting to know what works for us as individuals. Continually honing and fine tuning. And that involves taking risks, having a go, backtracking... But we need time - and freedom - to do that.

And if there is one thing I've learned about marketing over all these years it is that it is easier to sell something if we remove time and freedom from the decision making process, and focus on emotional reactions rather than considered reasoning.

Convenience - being able to ply our kids with something that we think will teach them what we think they should know by a certain age - is changing the nature of home education.

The last 18 months, with governments across the world suddenly enthusiastically and appropriating the term 'homeschooling' to describe switching, without adequate preparation, from learning in the classroom to learning in the home, has also had a profound effect on the nature of home education.

We've seen a huge influx of families who have embraced home education because they've realised the limitations of school to meet their children's needs. Many will last the distance, many won't - but that's not unusual in homeschooling land. School is the norm. We all know that. Our kids know that. It is unusual for home educating children to go through their entire childhoods without some experience of school. But every day learning outside of the school system is a wonderful experiment that leads to how learning actually happens, how it can be tailored to meet our individual needs. This practice, this experience, is the essence of home education.

But not if we're merely replicating what happens in schools, how kids are taught in schools - the why, how and when of it. And that's what I see happening: a gradual take over of homeschooling by the school system. Homeschooling becoming mainstream, but not as an alternative to school, but simply just another branch of school. The essence of its success slowly fading.

And I think this is what many home educating parents are voicing when they say that lockdown homeschooling "is not homeschooling". When they get angry that governments are suddenly embracing and appropriating the term homeschooling. Why they write articles and try to point out that lockdown homeschooling isn't homeschooling, not for home educating students, not for school students. The practice of home education is a different beast. If we give in and say that is the same, we lose the essence of home education, what makes it successful.

Image: Steven Weirather - girl doing schoolwork on her laptop

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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